Never Back Down
Everyone who knows me was convinced that I was going to love this movie. I'd rather not believe that my taste in films has become somewhat predictable but I will admit that it definitely was a good bet to assume I would have thoroughly enjoyed myself at this one.
Sadly, and quite shockingly, I really didn't. Sometimes a movie can get by on a hot, generally disrobed cast, trying to win out against overwhelming odds but it didn't work this time and the reason is because we've seen this exact movie done before, it was called The Karate Kid.
I don't care how hot the cast is, and believe me they are ridiculously hot, they are not going to out do a classic like The Karate Kid simply by changing a few elements of the story and representing it. I could say Never Back Down is The Karate Kid for the next generation, but I'd be exaggerating.
The basics of the story are exactly what you think they are. A young man with a penchant for fighting relocates with his family sans recently deceased dad, to Florida and has to try to fit in at a new school. Word gets out that he can kick ass and he is introduced to the underground world of the fight club style events that go on when the parents aren't watching. He doesn't want to fight but is pressured into it and gets his ass handed to him the first time out. Intro the wise Mr. Miyagi figure played by Djimon Hounsou who teaches him the true meaning behind fighting and who trains him for the big tournament to take place at the end of the film.
They definitely try to stand a bit apart from good ol Danielson by adding in a younger brother and some guilt over his fathers death but nothing is changed significantly enough for us to take this seriously as a story on its own. In fact, the reason behind his fighting is far less believable than in KK. Daniel had no choice but to fight, Jake (Sean Faris) decides to fight because he gets pissed off which lessens the emotional stakes; if he loses a fight that he chose to get into, who cares? He went in willingly and lost. You really only feel for the guy who was initially helpless to defend himself and out of necessity learned to stand up for himself. In Never Back Down, we've got a kid who likes to fight but just doesn't like to lose.
The weight of the performances and the quality of the script are an odd blend here. I think that Sean Faris is definitely a deeper, more layered actor than this character allows him to showcase, but at the same time Djimon Hounsou is such a force of nature
powerhouse actor that the script becomes completely irrelevant for him "” he's amazing no matter what. So it's tough to be sure where to place the blame for my lackluster response to what I thought was going to be a really fun ride.
I'm not saying the film is terrible by any means, I think a younger generation is definitely going to enjoy themselves but for anyone who is amply familiar with the source material, it's just going to come off like a cheap imitation unfortunately.
Movie Grade: C-
Jake Tyler never goes looking for trouble, but it always seems to find him. Since the break-up of his parents’ marriage, it’s everywhere he turns. Freshly transplanted from a sleepy Iowa town to the heat and flash of new-money Orlando, Florida, Jake seems headed for even more rocky terrain as he is pulled into an underground fighting league "” a kind of fight club for teens.
With the help of his new group of friends "” a fight and life-savvy coach, a free-thinking and adventurous girlfriend, and a scrawny but charming best friend "” Jake manages to rise above the chaos around him. But just as he’s beginning to feel like he’s in control, his world is turned upside down once again by an unrelenting campaign to get him back in the ring.