I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Never Back Down

tn_neverbackdownThe rest of the movies in VERN’S BACK TO SCHOOL SPECIAL will be more specifically about school, but this one is about underground fighting within the world of high school teens, so I think it counts. When I reviewed FIGHTING recently the commenter ‘a’ suggested I see this as a comparison, so I did.

NEVER BACK DOWN is a much cheesier movie than FIGHTING. It’s almost exactly the slick, dumb, commercial vehicle you’d expect FIGHTING would be. It’s based partly in the tradition of kickboxing movies, partly high school movies, although there’s not a part about a nerd being taught how to be cool by dressing different or taking off their glasses.

mp_neverbackdownThe hero, Jake Tyler (a buffed up Tom Cruise lookalike named Sean Faris), is your standard troubled-new-kid. His dad died drunk driving, he blames himself, gets in fights, his mom had to move, but he knows the answer nobody else knows in English class. The kids at his new school in Orlando know him from a Youtube video of a fight he got into during a football game. And they actually have a thriving co-ed community of competitive mixed martial artists, so they’re impressed by his skills.

Of course the biggest asshole at the school (Cam Gigandet) is their underground fighting champion and is treated like a rock star, walking around with a bunch of worshipful yes men and being able to do whatever he wants. And what he wants is a fight with the guy from the Youtube video so he lures him to a huge mansion/pool/beach party and baits him into a fight. It goes without saying that at first Jake tries to avoid the fight but is tricked into it and gets his ass kicked and must get his revenge and learn to never back down.

Next thing you know he’s defying his mom to get intensive fight training from Djimon Honsou, and defying Honsou by using the training to fight outside the gym. Doesn’t he know that you learn how to fight only to not ever use it? That’s how it’s supposed to work.

There’s another underground fight circuit called The Beat Down, where he hopes to compete against that asshole. They try to connect this movie to modern competitive fighting and the history of jiujitsu, saying that Honsou’s character trained with the Gracies. But it’s not based anywhere near the real world. In the actual UFC these guys train for months just for one fight that could last only a few minutes. In NEVER BACK DOWN’s “The Beat Down” they do an entire tournament in one night, each semi-finalist having maybe 5, 6, 7 fights pretty much back-to-back. And they have an emcee for the whole thing that might as well be Mekhi Pfeiffer hyping up the freestyle battles in 8 MILE.

Can you imagine somebody organizing fights like this and letting a bunch of high school kids get involved? One of those kids could so easily get mutilated, paralyzed or killed. Those dudes would be in prison, or a multi-million dollar lawsuit. So this is one of the more ridiculous fantasies of a teen subculture.

And that’s really what it is, a breakdancing or skateboarding movie but it’s MMA that gives them purpose and that they have to always record on their camcorders. He has the slang-talking nerd sidekick who latches onto him and introduces him to all the players (and gets hospitalized so our hero has no choice but to stubbornly walk into a trap). He has the girl (Amber Heard) torn between him and the bad guy. (And she looks like an actual teen while the two guys fighting for her look like adults, which is kind of creepy. I checked IMDB though and she’s only 4 years younger.) He has the mom who doesn’t understand and is disappointed that he’s part of this world. The kid brother who’s good at a more accepted sport who looks up to him and needs his support.

The asshole kid doesn’t just have lackeys, he also has a cruel father and disgustingly sculpted muscles. His parties include hot girls making out in bubble baths while dudes stand around in a circle watching. Like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS the movie wants you to accept spoiled rich kids as streetwise because of their knowledge of an underground sport.

I guess the biggest sign that this is meant for teens and not action fans is the soundtrack. I looked up the bands and they include: My Chemical Romance, Soulja Boy, Chamillionaire, Rise Against, Kanye West. If you plop all those names into a movie you’re not doing it because you thought they fit the movie. There’s something else going on there. It would be pretty cool though if they got Kanye to do a cheesy ROCKY style montage song. But they didn’t.

The good news is it does have one of the classic action movie cliches: the special move he learns near the beginning and you forget about it and then he does it in slow motion as the final blow to win the climactic fight.

At the end everybody (even Honsou) learns a lesson about family. Jake sees the bad guy at school and they nod and smile at each other – a completely unearned bond. You guys know I like when that happens in a movie, but this bad guy character would never turn cool after getting his ass kicked. I don’t buy it for a second. No way.

The director is Jeff Wadlow, Katie Couric’s nephew.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 12th, 2009 at 12:59 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 Responses to “Never Back Down”

  1. i emailed you when this came out and said you should review it. believe that. and oh it was everything i hoped it would be.

    i liked the asshole manboy. he was so fucking over the top in every way he could possibly be that it worked. for me. thanks vern.

  2. I watched Fighting based on your review and I’ve got to say I really enjoyed it. I’ll stay away from this for the same reason.

  3. How are the actual fights, Vern? Are they well shot/choreographed? I’m about a big a fan of MMA as you can get and I had no interest in this dumb movie when it came out (saved all my energy for Redbelt). There is a great movie to be made about the 90’s underground scene, though. But there isn’t really an underground now – it’s been supplanted by a slightly more organised amateur circuit.

    This just looked like an even worse No Retreat No Surrender (please review!!! It has the ghost of Bruce Lee teaching the hero the “special move he learns near the beginning and you forget about it and then he does it in slow motion as the final blow to win the climactic fight” – on JCVD).

    The thing it reminded me of most, though, was Gladiator (Rowdy not Ridley) – That was a good, kind of ridiculous, movie as I recall (been a while, though) – and features school kids so might be eligible for the current project.

  4. You’re right, I should definitely watch NO RETREAT NO SURRENDER again. That’s a hilarious movie and has a special place in my heart since it takes place partly in Seattle.

    The fights aren’t bad or anything. They’re clear and the actors are fairly convincing. At least I think so, but honestly don’t remember much about them. So don’t get too excited but at least they’re not swinging the camera around to help your pretend there’s a fight going on inside some blurriness.

    It’s funny that you compare it to REDBELT. One of the local reviewers who’s kind of a nutball (Seattle’s answer to Armond White) actually began his REDBELT review by saying, “We cannot consider Redbelt without considering Never Back Down,” then wasted his review comparing the two. He seemed to like NBD because, “We learn this: Love in its most purest condition—love as love, love as nothing but love, a love supreme—can only be extracted from this experience of two people who are brought together by a cosmic concatenation, love at first sight.”

    Of REDBELT he concluded, “The film as a whole is not satisfying. The society of the spectacle turns out to be too simple, too obvious, too easy a challenge for a man who draws all his moral strength from the age of the heroes.”

    This is the same guy who wrote ZOO, the documentary about the guy who got fucked to death by a horse. Not sure if that was about love at first sight or not.

  5. Wow – His words make me uncomfortable. Chilling.

    I know you get a lot of requests for reviews – but the NRNS series is pretty bananas. They’re all completely different (different genres, even) and connected only by their title, if I remember correctly. Bill Clinton is (sort of) in the third one, so there’s that.

  6. Not Clinton – Bush Snr. Too sleepy. N’night.

  7. The second and third, if I recall, are directed by Corey Yuen.

  8. Funny, IMDB reccomends that if you liked Zoo you may also like: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; Blue Velvet; Midnight Cowboy; Johnny Got His Gun; The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.

    Amazon says customers who bought Zoo also bought Cruising.

    I think your writer will be dissapointed as I don’t think people are watching it to learn about love. But he has found a back door into a back door market.

    As to NBD, I thought Cam was (deliberately) channelling Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden myself. I liked it and wanted to watch it again a month later. Not many of these are nice and polished with actors who are actually watchable. Up there with Wrong Bet and Best of the Best 2. Good to see Gen Y start getting more movies that capture their mood.

  9. Hey Vern, back in the day when UFC was first starting out, they had the tournament format. It was more feral then, and rather than the highly trained, well rounded athletes of today, it was all about putting in guys of different styles. Kind of like the Van Damme movie the Quest. But most of them got their asses kicked in about30 seconds by the grapplers. Check out this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNrxjqsvuJQ from UFC 1.

    I can’t say I recall seeing any teenagers in there though. Unless maybe Emmanuel Yarborough (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zhQb_nkR0U ) ate them.

    I think maybe this is why I didn’t like fighting. It lacked any of the UFC skills. And when they had a guy that DID have them, Channing Tatum beat him.

  10. Katie Couric’s nephew. You rule Vern

  11. The bad guy in this weirdly resembles Paul Walker.

  12. FIGHTING was a nice decent picture. NEVER BACK DOWN looks like shit. I guess cliches and conventions can be used for good or evil, depending on filmmakers…or those who give a damn.

    Vern – How about CLASS OF NUKE’EM HIGH for your Back to School special? Yeah its Troma, which is good and bad news rolled into a shit basketball that gets dunked.

  13. His new school in Orlando? Was this movie made there? Orlando is one of those rarer film locales, relegated to movies like Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector and Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

    And though that guy sounds like a quack, I thought Zoo was a fucking awesome movie and Police Beat wasnt bad either, though really pretensious. But I fucking loved Zoo, its made ridiculously well for being about such a crude subject matter.

  14. Live girls online here to have fun. With so many cam girls sites out there try out this one.Free Girls. be sure to be by as many times as necessary.

  15. I wonder what talalay latex are planning to do with all their NEVER BACK DOWN research?

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