Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

So let us take a sprig of ‘Fight Club’, sprinkle in a smidgen of ‘Rocky’, add a couple of shakes of ‘Rocky III’, a touch of ‘The Last Boy scout’, grab a few pieces of a whole bunch of other movies and toss into a pot that’s already overflowing with ‘The Karate Kid’. Bring that pot to a boil, then let it simmer for a moment or two and serve it on a hot plate and what you will have is this movie ‘Never Back Down’ which could very well be the most unoriginal and derivative movie ever made in the history of the planet earth. Even the movies star, Sean Farris, has a derivative look as he seems appears to be the ungodly genetic cross of Tom Cruise and Christopher Reeve. However, since it is so unashamedly derivative and it makes absolutely no effort to cover up this lack of original thought, it gave the movie plenty of time to focus on other things like fight scenes, making stuff move at fairly rapid pace and Amber Heard. And as such, I didn’t dislike this movie nearly as much as I thought I would.

The afore mentioned Sean Farris plays the role of Jake Tyler. Jake, as we see in the films opening scene, is a gifted athlete who is dominating the other team with his stellar defensive play on the football field. Jake unfortunately also has some rather severe anger issues as the mere mention of his dead father causes him to go in an uncontrollable rage, as it does on this particular rainy Friday night on the gridiron. Not that it matters much because this is Jake’s last day at this Iowa high school as Jake’s mom Margot (Leslie Hope), who Jake doesn’t get along with one little tiny bit, is relocating the family to Florida where Jake’s little bro Charlie (Wyatt Henry Smith) can further develop his tennis skills at some prestigious tennis academy.

At the new school Jake has pledged to try to control his anger and do right but his little escapade on the football fields in Iowa has been You Tubed and he already has a bit of a rep. Still Jake tries to make the best of it, finds a good friend in the slightly overweight

and goofy Max (Evan Peters) and the prettiest girl in school, Baja Miller (Amber Heard), seems to be digging on him. Baja even invites Jake to a big party later that evening, which I’m thinking Jake might not want to attend – but then that’s just me because I’ve seen this movie before. So many times.

You see there’s a little underground fighting ring going on at this school lead by the schools Alpha Male Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet) who actually tricked Jake into coming to this party so that he could see his fighting skills up close and personal. Jake at first wasn’t down with the plan, but then Ryan said the magic words which would lead to a beatdown of royal proportions. Thoroughly embarrassed, Max introduces Jake to his sensei, Brazilian fighting master Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou) who gives Jake some wax on / was off knowledge and teaches him the way to inner peace through totally beating the hell out of somebody. Skills Jake would like to use to finally get revenge at Ryan through some underground Kumite. Or something like that. Of course we know what has to happen by now, and this is Jake finding that peace and understanding the true meaning of the art which has nothing to do with revenge or randomly beating the hell of dudes, but he will still find himself being forced to fight at the end because to quote Kenny Rogers, ‘sometimes you gotta fight, when you’re a man’.

‘Never Back Down’ is truly something else. Similar to Mister Miyagi, Hounsou’s Jean Roqua has a troubled past and when he pulled out a photo out of his bag I was seriously concerned it would be an old black and white snapshot of an old Japanese woman sitting down having tea. Almost nothing was sacred in this movie, quite ably directed by Jeff Wadlow, as one could almost play a drinking game called ‘name that movie’ and be completely stumbling stinking drunk by about thirty five minute mark. We understand that there’s not a lot of original stuff left to do out there anymore, but ‘Never Back Down’ was almost criminal. The litany of transgressions that this film has committed against so many other movies in such a short time is far too long to list here, but goodness to Betsy, the list is vast.

However, with all that being said, this doesn’t necessarily indicate that I didn’t enjoy this movie, at least on some level. Aside from the fact that at a length at close two hours that this thing ran a little long, as stealing from other movies while trying to wedge bits of your own within said movie can be time consuming, there is some entertainment value to be had here. Sean Farris made for a solid square jawed protagonist, Cam Gigandet made for an equally solid, six pack packing foil to Farris’ troubled hero, and Amber Heard, in an industry literally over flowing with pretty young blonde girls could very well be the prettiest of them all – at least of today. Now I don’t know if Djimon Hounsou can really act or not, but when he’s on the screen he certainly makes you fully aware that he’s there. I believe they call that ‘Screen Presence’ and dude has it in spades. The fight scenes are decently shot and I don’t think anyone could call this a dull exercise as the pace was pretty brisk.

‘Never Back Down’ is probably not a movie one could give a glowing recommendation to, all things considered, but it’s not without its charm amidst its blatantly stolen narrative.

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