a critiQal film review Fighting (2009)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Tatum) knows firsthand that every day in New York City is a struggle to survive. So when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Howard) gives him a chance to be something more in the brutal underground world of bare-knuckle street-fighting, Shawn decides he has something to fight for and puts everything on the line to win.

810 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 3s)

After seeing Never Back Down (2008) a little while ago, I figured it’d be awhile before I’d venture back into the street-fighting movie genre to experience another failure. So when Fighting first hit theaters, I stayed away.

But, after seeing G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), I figured I’d give Channing Tatum a try in his own little movie. And with a cast that also included Terrance Howard (Iron Man (2008)), I figured I couldn’t go wrong. Would this turn out to be actually a decent fight movie for the first time since, oh, say, the Cuba Gooding Jr. starrer Gladiator (1992), or would this just be another weak attempt to capitalize on the leftover buzz from films like Rocky (1976) and Fight Club?

In Fighting, Channing Tatum, who didn’t do a half-bad job in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009), displays none of the qualities that made him watchable in that film. Adopting a nearly unintelligible mumble for his role (possibly trying to pay homage to Rocky’s butchered English, but ending up seeming to take a pot shot at it instead), Tatum stumbles his way through scene after scene in Fighting. He never really draws the viewer into his world, instead shambling his way through fight after fight without much emotion whatsoever, just wasting his days going from fight to fight.

Even his “romantic” sequences with hot co-star Zulay Henao (who plays a character named Zulay, imagine that) are lukewarm at best. He manages to smile a little bit around her, but their awkward dating – and near-kissing – scenes showcase once again his stoic and rather unfeeling demeanor. While she plays coy and tentative, he plays zombie – not a good combination, and something that will cause many to start searching for the fast-forward button.

Terrance Howard tries to compete with Tatum’s annoying mumble by coming up with a high-pitched irritating voice of his own, for some odd reason, and does reasonably well at bugging the viewer to no end. Even with this annoying lilt to his voice, the viewer tries to remember his better roles, and looks past that at his character – and, unfortunately, finds their isn’t much behind the voice. If he’s not just coasting through this role for the paycheck, he sure will fool a lot of viewers into thinking he is.

Bit players Luiz Guzman, the afore-mentioned Zulay Henao and Brian White all try to contribute to the film, but their parts are brief enough so it’s a case of too little, too late.

The film itself is majorly flawed as well, even if Tatum and Howard were actually putting effort into trying to make it work. While the setup is only improbable (not impossible), the way the film plays out the situation leaves a whole lot to be desired. Sure, there are a couple of plot twists, but the viewer will either see them coming from miles away, or their revelation shows them to be pointless and unnecessary to the story – basically, nothing but brief time-killers before the film moves on.

While fight sequences in these types of films have been getting more and more stylized as time has gone on, Fighting changes that by going back to the low-budget look of two guys just duking it out. At first this old take is refreshing, but as time wears on and the fight sequences keep getting duller, the viewer will start to wonder if this bare bones approach is due to design – or just due to the director’s lack of ability to shoot a more elaborate fight sequence. Toss in more pointless shots and dull camera angles, and the picture starts becoming clearer – director just doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Unfortunately, Fighting is just another contender who seems to think that all a film needs is a couple of fight sequences to make it worth the time. Sadly, little things like decent acting and a solid storyline seem to be left by the wayside as the director and cast concentrate on making their choreographed fights look “real”. Sadly, in this case, while the fights may look real, that doesn’t make them particularly exciting, and the movie fails on that front as well.

From the start, it’s obvious stars Channing Tatum and Terrance Howard aren’t trying to make this movie a crowning achievement, and in fact are actively trying to make the film worse. As the movie progresses, and the unexciting fight sequences grow in repetition rather than in scope through the course of the film, Howard’s voice grates more and more on your nerves, Tatum’s mumble continues to be nearly unintelligible, and the director continues to disappoint as the plot slowly grinds down to it’s finale, you’ll start to see why Tatum and Howard aren’t so enthused about their roles in this film.

Take a cue from them. They obviously don’t care about this movie – and neither should you.

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