Thursday, 20 November 2008

Never Back Down

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Screenplay: Chris Hauty
Starring: Sean Faris, Amber Heard & Dijmon Honsou

Hollywood strikes again, jumping on the bandwagon and rebranding it for the teen market. Never Back Down takes the current trend of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)/UFC style fighting and wraps it up in another ho-hum Karate Kid plot, throwing in loads of glossy camerawork and editing but not much MMA or much else for that matter. We’ve seen it a million times before: kid moves to new school; gets beat up; trains with older master (who has troubled past); becomes gifted fighter; beats up original kid who beat him up and wins the girl and love, respect and admiration of everyone around him. At least Never Back Down doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not but with very little fight action and way too many training montages, it’s certainly nothing to get excited about.

The film is certainly well made and the acting is decent as well but the main character played by Sean Faris just becomes an annoying, sulky so and so after a while, rather than the underdog we want to root for. The entire film is just too glossy for its own good, coming across more as an extended music video/Pepsi commercial than a feature film. Cliché is piled upon cliché from the struggles Faris has with his single parent mum, to his irritating, ridiculously haired ‘comedy’ sidekick to the oh so predictable finale and outcome. The film is so drab in its plotting and familiarity that the sun soaked visuals and bikini clad babes become boring after a while. Well, maybe not the bikini clad babes. The bright spots are leading lady Amber Heard (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) who shows she should be in better stuff than this and Faris’s relationship with his onscreen brother which is handled in a refreshingly mature manner.

The fight action is no great shakes either and there is very little of it. Over edited and too much tricksy camerawork ruin any fluidity or excitment the fights might have. If they had just been allowed to play out and shot in a style that lets us see what is happening then Never Back Down could have been a fun fight film. But as is de-rigour, posing and cutting the fight to a trendy rock song is the name of the game. Shame really, as Never Back Down would have been a good showcase for some MMA.

Not an unholy mess but not very good either, this is definitely for the teen crowd (and I suppose they need movies too) and anyone who loves MTV. Action and cinema fans should just go back and watch The Karate Kid, Kickboxer and, hell, even No Retreat No Surrender again instead.

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