Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Premise: A teen (Sean Faris) with a predilection for fighting moves to a new high school and discovers an underground extreme fighting circuit being run by the students. After getting beaten by the reigning champion (Cam Gigandet) he begins training with a local fighter (Djimon Hounsou).
What Works: Never Back Down has some nice bits in it, especially as Sean Faris’ character interacts with his younger brother (Wyatt Smith) and his new friend, clinger, and fellow fighter (Evan Peters). As the sidekick, Peters is there to provide humor, which he does, and has some good moments that reveal an actor with a sense of comic timing and more range than the other teen performers in the film. The opening is also fairly strong and the film has a golden concept; in this posh, upper class community the teenagers are engaging in a savage ritual.
What Doesn’t: Despite starting with a great idea, Never Back Down does not carry out the bits that work and quickly falls into fight film clichés. The picture imitates a lot of sports films like The Karate Kid and Rocky from training montages to the relationship between the fighter and his mentor. The fighting of Never Back Down is disturbing but for the wrong reasons; the film does not acknowledge the barbarity of the act or provide any perspective on what causes or sustains the violence. Instead, it’s treated as just another competition. The relationship between Faris’ character and his family is incomplete and as good as Smith is, he seems at least an unlikely fighter. The villain of the film (Cam Gigandet) is an entirely clichéd rich-kid bully with hints of a background, but the character fails to be threatening or compelling and his interaction with Faris’ protagonist has no tension and puts nothing at stake. The acting in the film is mostly laughable, especially by Amber Heard as the love interest. For that matter, all the women in the film are there as scenery and nothing more; they are given only the most idiotic dialogue and spend most of their time cheering on pairs of men beating the hell out of each other.
Bottom Line: Never Back Down is a frustrating film. It’s got some nice moments and an interesting idea but it does not take that idea seriously and it ends up trapped by its stupidity.
Episode: #184 (March 30, 2008)