Donnie Yen's recent Flash Point provided action movie fans a glimpse of Mixed-Martial Arts, or MMA, where the best of breed techniques in taking down an opponent get gelled together to provide unpredictability in offensive and defensive response, coupled with the transformation of almost every part of the body into a well-oiled mechanism to dish out some serious punishment. But with Hollywood, well, you can bet your last dollar that the philosophy behind this brand of martial arts get dumbed down to 3 words - "Mix it up".
Like many movies starring teens and targeting the same demographics, Never Back Down follows a standard formula that most of such movies adopt, especially with taking things to the streets, like Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift, and the Step Up or Stomp the Yard movies, which dealt with different subject matter like street racing, and street dance. Throw a misunderstood teen into a new environment, where he learns that his current skills (if you can call them that) pales in comparison to the boys in the big league. Add a beautiful lass to beguile the protagonist, and she'll either serve as motivation or fodder to get his butt kicked because she just so happens to the antagonist's main squeeze. So in a fight for respect / pride / to get the girl, he goes into training mode, and comes back in time for the finale with chick around arms. That's about it.
So don't go into this movie expecting a lot more. Touting itself as a new fight club, it is anything but, especially with everything cerebral removed from the plot. I also don't see how it won this year's MTV Movie Awards for best fight sequence, as most of it dwelled on grown men hugging tightly on the ground engaged in complex body grinding and twists. Action fans will be a tad disappointed with the quality of fights shown here, as this is not really MMA. I believe if you throw Donnie Yen into the mix, he would pawn everyone in the movie, even those who choreographed the supposedly deadlier moves, which boiled down to a series of boxing hooks and punches.
With the formula in place, everything else will just fall into its rightful position. Sean Faris stars as Jake Tyler, a teen with anger management and guilt issues who can't control his temper and flares up easily when his dad gets insulted. In his new school, he chances upon 2 things, an underground fight club, and hot blonde Baja Miller, who turns out to be the girl of his would-be nemesis Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), who turns out to be the biggest baddest fighter in school. Losing both the girl and his pride in one fell disgraceful swoop, he undergoes training with MMA exponent Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou) whose rule is simple - you do not fight outside his gym. Expect rules to be broken, expect the two mentor-mentee to bond, expect some rationale to be provided to head to the fight we've been waiting for, and while the peer movies gave us a finale to remember, this one fizzled out with cheap moves.
But I've got to say something about the movie. Fans of Tom Cruise will definitely see shades of Cruise-like characters in Sean Faris. He's like a walking, talking Cruise clone, only that he's younger, taller and more muscular. In fact, if you take Cruise back to his teens, Never Back Down would probably be one of the movies that would fit into his budding filmography. Not that I'm gay here, but seriously, if you happen for any reason, choose to watch this movie, tell me if you agree with me. They shouldn't have billed the movie as the new fight club, they should have billed the movie as starring the next Tom Cruise. Though of course it remains to be seen if Faris can steer clear of crazy couch-jumping antics.
And oh yeah, the movie here was edited, not because of the fight sequences, but you guessed it, the sex. I believe it was a kiss between two nude girls in a foam pool, from what's left of it.