Sean Faris - Jake Tyler
Djimon Hounsou - Jean Roqua
Cam Gigandet - Ryan McCarthy
Amber Heard - Baja Miller
Evan Peters - Max Cooperman
Leslie Hope - Margot Tyler
Wyatt Smith - Charlie Tyler
Genre - Action/Drama/Teen
Running Time - 106 Minutes
Score - 3 Howls Outta 4
NEVER BACK DOWN is pretty much a remake of THE KARATE KID with elements of BLOODSPORT and FIGHT CLUB added in. Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) is a great football star with a lot of pent up anger. This stems from surviving a car accident where his drunk dad crashed a car into a telephone pole, killing him. Feeling guilty over letting his father drive drunk, Jake takes it out by fighting and getting into trouble. Pretty much frustrated with Jake and seeing better opportunities for Jake's younger brother Charlie (Wyatt Smith), Margot Tyler (Leslie Hope) decides to move with Jake and Charlie to Orlando, Florida so Charlie can attend some big shot tennis school.
Once in Orlando, Jake enters his new school already a celebrity due to one of his fights being posted all over the web, including YouTube. Some MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) wannabe named Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet) learns that Jake is now a student at his school, he manipulates his girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard) to befriend Jake to lure him to a party at Ryan's house. Ryan pretty much manipulates Jake into fight him by bringing up Jake's late father, but Jake gets the crap beaten out of him to boost Ryan's ego. Wanting revenge, Jake finds a trainer with amateur filmmaker and Jake's new best friend Max Cooperman (Evan Peters) help. Max introduces Jake to Jean Rocqua (Djimon Hounsou), who also has his own personal issues and uses MMA training to release his own anger. Forcing Jake to never fight outside of his gym, Jean decides to train Jake in MMA. But with Ryan constantly wanting to prove a point to Jake that he's better than him by hurting his friends, can Jake conquer his demons or will he have to break his promise and fight Ryan one more time?
NEVER BACK DOWN is a ridiculous, generic, extremely predictable, and pretty straight forward flick. Like I said, it pretty much takes the story of THE KARATE KID but modernizes it with the internet, a prettier cast, a black man instead of an Asian, and an MMA focus. This is the kind of film that sounds really pointless on paper and as a matter of fact, all of us could survive without seeing NEVER BACK DOWN. Surprisingly, I found myself rather taken by this stupid film because underneath the gloss, the MTV rock music, and the buff bodies - there was a cheesy 80s film peeking its head out and I love me some cheesy 80s flicks.
NEVER BACK DOWN was one entertaining flick from top to bottom, even when you know how it's all gonna go. The story is pretty simple: angry kid moves to new town, gets confronted by another angry kid with a big ego that bullies him, angry kid decides to train himself to stop the bullying, angry kid and the angry kid with a big ego fight at the end, and surprisingly (note: sarcasm) the angry kid wins the glory and the girl. Hell, I can hear Peter Cetera singing "Glory of Love" in my head as I just typed this. Sure, I'd love to see something remotely original, but if something unoriginal is done right and takes advantage of knowing exactly what it is, then I really don't have an issue. NEVER BACK DOWN uses every cliche and montage sequence and uses them well. Yeah, I pretty much called everything that happened in this film but I had fun doing so.
The MMA stuff was a nice touch. It's extremely popular right now, with the UFC and Pride being big sporting events and making celebrities out of the fighters. NEVER BACK DOWN isn't gonna substitute the UFC any time soon, but at least I got to see some training montages and some decently choregraphed fights. They could have been better and some of them, especially the final confrontation, was over the top and ridiculous. I mean, slamming people on concrete and into cars should have shattered some spinal discs or broken some necks. But they were fun to watch. Speaking of the final fight, it was remarkingly similar to how STEP UP 2: THE STREETS ended in structure and tone. I guess it comes to show that dancing and fighting are pretty much one and the same. I'm hoping Mike Tyson joins the new cast of Dancing With The Stars and knocks out Cheryl Burke or something.
I did have a big beef with the film and that was in the form of its message. Apparently NEVER BACK DOWN wanted to address its viewers on how fighting isn't the solution to our problems. Yet, how do the characters solve their problems?
BY KICKING ASS!!
Yeah, great way to stick with your message. Remember, give peace a chance...by crushing some skulls with your feet and fists.
I also disliked the ending too, which pretty much wrapped everything up in a nice little bow. Even our two rivals were chummy chummy after all the bullshit they did to each other throughout the film. A dude takes your girl and beats you in a fight that's seen by the entire school class, and you're gonna be friends with him all of a sudden? I call BULLSHIT. That dude would have to be wheeled in a chair while eating through a tube at the ten year High School reunion. Ridiculous.
I thought the direction by Jeff Wadlow was kind of cool. It was definitely made for MTV and The Hills generation, but I still dug it. The slow motion during the big hits during the fights and the editing was nicely done. Some shaky cam at work here, which fit well with the whole YouTube context that ran through this film. The fights were decently shot. The film looked absolutely beautiful. And I loved the cheesy montages over the rock music. Hell, even Kanye West's "Stronger" was in the film. If that doesn't spell "I'm desperately trying to present a hip film", I don't know what will.
The acting was also surprisingly good for this type of film. Sean Faris was very good as protagonist Jake Tyler. He looks like a young Tom Cruise (only taller and buffer), but doesn't really have his presence or half his charisma. But Faris is still a very good actor who gave a convincing performance. I'm not sure if this film will send the guy into the stratusphere or anything, but after starring in two failed shows (Life As We Know It and Reunion), it's a good start. I would like to see the guy in a better flick.
Djimon Honsou was the best actor here, unsurprisingly, as the Mr. Miyagi character of the film. I'm surprised he starred in this film after starring in way better films like AMISTAD and BLOOD DIAMOND, but I guess the film needed star power. Still, Honsou has great chemistry with Faris and does a good job playing his mentor. I do feel this film is beneath him though.
The rest of the cast was okay as well. Cam Gigandet likes to smile alot and act tough like he's playing the Brad Pitt character in FIGHT CLUB. I thought he was okay, but he's no different from the character he played on The O.C. He does have a look that makes me want to kick him in the balls though. So I guess the villain thing did work. Amber Heard was hot as the girlfriend, Baja. Nothing more, nothing less. And Evan Peters was good as the dorky Max. I'm surprised the cast convinced me as much as they did in this flick. They made a very mediocre film into a watchable one.
THE FINAL HOWL
I may get some flack for giving NEVER BACK DOWN the score I gave it. But I honestly was not expecting much out of this film and was surprised how much I ended up liking it. Yeah, it's a pretty bad flick but it's entertaining and the cast and the director try really hard into making this a serious film about teenage FIGHT CLUB. I say if you want to see metrosexual and shirtless muscular men bear hug each other (in a manly way of course) while reciting generic dialogue and performing every cliche in the book, NEVER BACK DOWN is for you. Hey, it may entertain you like it did for me. A bad film that's actually good - who knew they still make those these days?