My review of Never Back Down appeared in Thursday's Westender.
Never Back Down
By Andrea Warner
Borrowing heavily from every movie involving a wise mentor and an angry young man with issues, Never Back Down attempts to disguise violent brawls as life lessons about responsibility, growing up, and forgiveness. A vicious roundhouse kick to the jaw? That’s the sound of men beginning to heal.
Sean Faris (who looks like a young Tom Cruise) plays Jake, the new kid in school whose reputation as a fighter precedes him through the magic of YouTube-like videos showcasing his “mad skills”. When he immediately falls for the hot blonde, laughably named Baja, it’s no secret that she’ll be the girlfriend of his future nemesis, Ryan, the sociopath leader of the underground fight club that’s permeated this Orlando community.
Jake finds a mentor and a father figure in two-time Academy Award nominee Djimon Hounsou’s Jean Roqua, a mixed martial artist with his own skeletons in the closet, demanding that his clients only fight inside his gym, not on the street. Hounsou’s acting talents are wasted here, but his bulging biceps bring believability to his character’s reputation as The Best Fighter Ever.
The conclusion is anti-climactic and formulaic, and the quick-cut editing tries to hold the attention of the ADD crowd. The script feels stale, even with the modern, digital tweaks—every kid has a cellphone to record the action and make a celebrity out of winners and losers via the miracle of the Internet. It’s Gossip Girl meets Fight Club, without the cleverness of either.