One of the reasons why I'm watching this, is because of the probable rising star in Channing Tatum. No stranger to the teenage demographics because of his starring role in Step Up (and cameo in Step Up 2 the Streets), and in the upcoming lead role in summer blockbuster G.I. Joe as Duke, Fighting is one of those films that gets him to showcase his sculpted and chiselled features for a role that's more brawn than brains.
The film may have made itself look like the equivalent of a poor cousin of Fight Club, where the participants observe similar rules of silence since it's underground after all, but story wise it's anything but, because this effort is clearly trying to find balance between drama and action, with the latter supposedly being the highlight, but eventually turning its title into a misnomer. It wasn't that the fight sequences weren't intense – they were like Fearless proportions in having the Russians and the Chinese become more skillful adversaries, however the techniques here were more street and raw, so don't go about looking for “killer/signature” moves. Think two people fighting for survival and cash, and you get the drift that fanciful patterns are just a time waster to getting instant results.
Given only 3.5 fights in the film, I thought the dramatic elements would be more engaging since they form the bulk of the screen time. The story by Robert Munic and director Dito Montiel jumped straight into the thick of things, painting the character of Shawn MacArthur (Tatum) as a street-wise sidewalk trader whose temper and fisticuffs led to the attention of small time scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard), who sees Shawn as a possible ticket out of both their monetary empty lives. Harvey introduces Shawn into the avenue of quick bucks through participating in a New York underground street fighting circuit, and taking Shawn under his wing, they both set out to take the circuit by storm.
Then the story falls short a little in trying to stuff too much into too little. It threw in an invisible parent who links Shawn up with childhood adversary Evan Hailey (Brian J White) whom you know will feature at some point in a brawl, a token love interest in waitress and single mother Zulay Valez (Zulay Henao), and themes such as believing in oneself, which was quite weakly delivered. In fact, there's not much positive themes coming out of this film, since there's always the shadow of corruption and the thought of throwing the fights looming over the characters' heads. The story also forces you to accept that Shawn has immense brute force after all these years (OK, so it didn't completely forget to add that complimentary training montage), and an incredible amount of luck which seems to be constantly shining on him.
There were attempts to raise the bar through the exploration of the brotherhood and trust issues, since it takes quite a lot for a hustler to team up with a stranger who had the power to bankrupt everyone if he doesn't step up. But everything became glossed over very quickly, with every speed bump and roadblock in the lead characters friendship always quickly resolved and forgiven. If only things in real life were so easy, then again, these two men know that their partnership has to be intact since they're speaking the language of money.
Fighting offers nothing new, nor excitement as it sets itself up for an expected finale. Terrence Howard seemed to have taken a step back in this role which doesn't offer him a chance to continue his filmography of impressive roles. If you do intend to watch this, then you got to be warned that almost everyone mumbles, or at times go through a great degree of improvisation in the dialogue, since they make it a habit to say something, then trail off, before adding something else over again.