a critiQal film review Never Back Down (2008)

Plot: Jake Tyler (Faris), a recent transfer student with a troubled past, is unwittingly pulled into a fight with school bully Ryan McCarthy (Gigandet) after following the flirtatious Baja (Heard) to a party. After being humiliated by Ryan, Jake discovers Mixed Martial Arts from a classmate and is introduced to Jean Roqua (Hounsou), who agrees to train Jake. But it's up to Jake to have the patience and desire needed in order to succeed.

510 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 33s)

So, Never Back Down hit DVD a little while ago, and it wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of movies to see. Another fight movie (read: Rocky rip-off), this time cashing in on the latest UFC/mixed martial arts craze – all concerning a bunch of the young and hip “O.C”-type actors.

Then, we recently moved to a new apartment, and I didn’t get around to adding new movies to my Blockbuster.com queue, and suddenly I found myself with a copy of the DVD. Had I misjudged the previews, and this pretty-boy fighting flick had more to offer, or would I be kicking myself for putting this one in my queue at all?

Sean Faris and Cam Gigandet go head to head in this fight flick. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard the names before – I hadn’t either – and neither did a good job of showing me I should remember their names. Sean, as the rough-and-tumble fighter, battling inner turmoil as well as the school bully, didn’t do much to impress – and Cam wasn’t much better as the big bad school bully. Apparently, they got their roles thanks to their six-packs and their looks – not because of their acting skills.

While the boxing film Gladiator (starring a younger Cuba Gooding, Jr. and some other guy) wasn’t any great shakes, acting-wise, Never Back Down makes it look pretty close to Shakespeare. True, most of the teeny boppers who are flocking to flicks like this and aren’t looking for depth in their films – they just want to see fighting.

Never Back Down definitely has plenty of that – unfortunately, quantity doesn’t mean quality. While the fight scenes are at least halfway decent, the viewers never really get into the characters enough to really care what’s going on.

Gladiator – thanks in large part to Cuba – got the viewers involved in the storyline – even swallowing the cheese – making the final fight (against Brian Dennehy for crying out loud) more exciting than the final fight between Faris and Gigandet.

Amber Heard also pops up as the requisite girl in the film, and does nothing much more than spend most of the film in tears – apparently over her suddenly deep attachment to newcomer Faris – despite being Gigandet’s girlfriend. No wonder so many young actors stick with TV, if this is all they are offered on the big screen.

Like most films made for teens, Never Back Down take some of the “beautiful people” of Hollywood, sticks them into a very simplistic storyline, and tosses in a fad (in this case, UFC), and packages it all up as slick as possible. Unfortunately, also like most teen films, once the packaging is peeled back, most viewers will discover there’s nothing really worth seeing beneath all the hype.

Unless you’re a crazed teen fan of Heard, Faris or Gigandet, chances are Never Back Down doesn’t have much to offer you, either – you’ll be happier checking out Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s Gladiator instead.

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