Guest Review: Never Back Down

Posted: August 8, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in Uncategorized

The following review was not written by me, or any of the site regulars (HT Schuyler, JJ Silf, and MC Wishchitz).

-PG Cooper

It is safe to say arguably one of the most fascinating generations to ever be created in human history has to be the one made in the last 20-30 years.  I belong in this generation, which unfortunately kills me to admit.  Why exactly?  I find our generation, which has been blessed with the most advanced technology known to mankind and some of the greatest means mankind has ever seen, to be ironically, one of the biggest failures.  You could say it starts early, maybe the way kids are raised, regardless the biggest faults really come out in pop culture.  Music, television and movies are constantly being retrofitted for a younger, ‘trendier’ audience that is less inclined to endure a movie with dialogue, themes and characters and more readily accepts action, explosions and half naked bikini clad women.  Where is the problem in this?  None of the movies being made in the last 10-15 years are any good. Occasionally, and I stretch the word occasionally they are.  However, the generation I have grown up with automatically brands every new colorful and bubblegum pop film as ‘great’ or ‘the best movie I have ever seen’.  Nothing to me is more annoying than misplaced hyperbole.  So I, beginning with my following review, will have an all-out assault on pop culture films created in the last 10-15 years.  It all begins with Never Back Down.

Everyone has been talking non-stop about this movie since it was first released in 2008, and it took me four years to finally find out what all the fuss was about.  A friend finally, after much conviction, claiming it was a ‘great action film’ and similar to The Karate Kid got me to settle down and watch it.  MMA fighting is a brutal sport, and at times pretty hard to watch.  It lacks the gentlemen decency that Boxing has crafted over the years, and doesn’t nearly have the pull or acclaim that Football or Basketball has drawn in, yet has many Hollywood movies made after it.  How do you make this a good movie?  Never Back Down fails to answer this question in many ways.

Never Back Down begins with Jake Tyler(played rather inconsistently by Sean Faris) and his Football team as they battle in his hometown somewhere in Iowa.  Tensions flare and before you know it, Tyler is fighting multiple opposing team players and holding his own.  This causes some backlash between his Mother, Margot(Leslie Hope) who is clearly holding the death of Tyler’s Father on him.  Regardless, the Tyler family moves down to Orlando, Florida for Jake’s youngest brother, Charlie(Wyatt Smith) who is a Tennis phenom.  Speeding up the pace, Tyler is a legend because of the Football fight that went viral on Youtube, claiming the attention of a hot piece of ass in Baja Miller(Amber Heard) and the films antagonist Ryan(Cam Gigandet).  Ryan is the school’s top dog, the alpha male and it upsets him for some unknown reason that Tyler is claiming his ‘turf’, resulting in a baited fight that ends with Tyler getting his ass beat.  Tyler reluctantly finds the help of a trainer,  Jean Roqua(Djimon Hounsou) to help him finally beat Ryan, and reclaim his self-respect and dignity in an underground ‘Fight Club’ esque championship.

Now if you cannot tell from my rough summary of Never Back Down, this story is everywhere, with pretty much everything coming back to one thing, Mixed Martial Arts.  Perhaps my biggest problem, besides the acting, the lack of character development, plot development, or overall care in anything that is going on is the message that the film is trying to sculpt.  Fighting solves nothing and is not a good thing to look up to, nor aspire to be.  However, the film does NOT follow this in any way.  We get constant degrading speeches and lectures from Jake’s Mom and his trainer that lay down what we all know, nothing good comes from fighting and it comes with significant consequences.  This is a perfect message to teach to children, however this movie does not hold to this, constantly glorifying the action that happens in the film.  Hell, after a rather pointless argument with his mentor, Jake decides that he would randomly fight a group of thugs, just because the thugs drove ‘close’ to his friend’s car.  Instead of having the character show a struggling emotion through dialogue, or progressive action, we have to see it through a highly stylized action fight sequence that develops nothing, proves nothing or explains anything.  Now, I have nothing wrong with fighting or showing films with fight sequences.  However, when you have a conflicting message with a character that goes one way, then jumps fences because of circumstantial reasoning it becomes hard to reason with that character, resulting in the audience caring a lot less.

The only really rewarding part of this film can be found in the acting department, where you get anywhere from consistent performances to we could do without performances.  The best performance belongs to Djimon Hounsou who, through short, quick and sweet words of dialogue displays an emotional mentor with a disastrous past hiding from the pain of being a failure.  Hounsou commands attention every time he is on screen, and really his chemistry with Faris is not too bad.  Faris is a decent actor, but is rather inconsistent.  The only time he really seems to play the character well is when he is angry, and confused.  Otherwise everything seems to be him trying too hard, or coming off clearly as ‘acting’.  The two biggest problems are Amber Heard and Cam Gigandet.  Amber Heard is absolutely gorgeous in this film, but every scene she is in she is there for eye candy and it’s obvious.  She just looks like she is ready to hop into Faris’ pants, and not really anything else.  Cam Gigandet is just the typical caricature, a simple bad guy with unresolved, undeveloped Daddy issues.  We really do not know why Cam’s character is a bad guy, and honestly, we really don’t care.  In a short scene we are lead to believe it has something to do with his Father, but that doesn’t make sense seeing as he lives in a huge mansion and drives at the time, a brand new Hummer.  To conclude my rant about the cast inconsistency, I must include the annoyance that is Evan Peter’s character Max Cooperman, the ‘comedic relief’.  All of his comedic dialogue is incredibly off, lousy and poorly written.  “This isn’t my car, it’s my baby.”  I’m guessing this line was supposed to be funny, which would explain the four second pause he had before saying my baby, but it came off extremely dry.  Not to mention, his character willingly goes to the bad guy’s house to give away tips on how to defeat the main character, and allow himself to get his ass beat.  Dumbass.

The film’s director, Jeff Wadlow has been rather successful with films like Cry Wolf —err, I mean, has been a joke of a director since his entrance into filmmaking, and Never Back Down does not back down from that(pun needed).  Never Back Down lacks characters we really care about, in situations that we cannot relate to.  NBD appeals to younger audiences because of the stylized action flick it is, picture Mortal Kombat, without the badass up-tempo music and awesome villains.  The film moves way too fast, automatically throwing good guy, with pretty girl against bad guy with a stick up his ass because that’s the natural progression of things.  The script penned by Chris Hauty is a brutalized Karate Kid on steroids, Hounsou playing the role of mentor(Mr. Miyagi), and Feris playing the role of the misunderstood, talented fighter with intense anger issues(Daniel) and the antagonist with no real reason to be evil beyond the film needing him to be(The Germans).  The dialogue is pretty standard, with cheap chances for humor, usually involving awkward scenes with Jake’s little brother and rough instances at wisdom and inspiration with Hounsou who does his best with what he has.  Overall, the dialogue fails to do what movies are intended to do, entertain, and have a character come to a satisfying/meaningful conclusion.

So, this completes my first review on the assault of my generation’s misunderstanding of ‘great’ filmmaking.  Never Back Down is a rehash of films done below average in a stylized, quick cut and shoddy misplaced music video sense.  The twelve randomly placed montages cannot save this movie from being ‘hip’ and the action scenes, quick, brutal and furious do not make this movie any more entertaining.  Djimon Hounsou’s performance is the films best and it might be worth a watch if you can wade through the overdramatic, inconsistent lead performance and hypocritical villain.  Oh, and Amber Heard is hot as hell in this movie, but in no way does this make this movie even eclipse the ‘great’, ‘good’ or even ‘okay’ classification that the younger generation dignifies it as.

  1. ianthecool says:

    I think I know who wrote this.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    This film is pretty much a rehash of everything else that has ever come before it but there’s not that much of a problem with it because it’s actually entertaining, believe it or not. Also, Amber Heard is always great to look at. Great review whoever this is.

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