April 24, 2009

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Fighting (PG-13)
Guys fight in Fighting, a movie so self-explanatory a review almost feels redundant.

Not that that’s going to stop me.

Much like scrappy Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum, campaigning hard for the position as his generation’s Sylvester Stallone), I’m not going to let anything stop me. Not even nonsensical plot points, like the fact that we meet him when he’s selling counterfeit Harry Potter books (Harry Potter and the Hippopotamus — there’s a market? Really?), will stop this triumphant tale of a kid on the streets, trying to make his way via underground fights. It’s when he’s on the streets trying to sell such a box full of nonsense that he comes across Harvey (Terrence Howard), a self-identified two-bit hustler who likes the way this hunk of chiseled abs and “huh” expression fights. He eventually convinces Shawn to take part in fights organized by men like Jack Dancing (Roger Guenveur Smith) and Martinez (Luis Guzman), underworld bigwigs who think that Harvey is small potatoes. These men bet on the fighters and place bets for wealthy uptown types who like the danger of these games. For Shawn, though, none of that matters — he’s in it for the money that he hopes will get him off the streets. Particularly when he meets Zulay (Zulay Henao), a sweet single mom who works nights at a club frequented by these men, he wants to prove his worth and make the money that makes a better life possible.

The movie also contains an only half-developed plot about a rivalry with another fighter, Evan Hailey (Brian White). Evan and Shawn used to be on the same wrestling team in college and there was some kafuffle between Evan and Shawn and Shawn’s dad (the coach) and … well, and whatever. Their past and Shawn’s reason for leaving his Alabama home aren’t particularly well defined and eventually the whole mess is just sort of dropped. The point seems to be to set up a reason for Evan and Shawn to dislike each other and to add a little extra tension to their Big Fight. This, like some of the uneven character development, makes the movie a bit shaggy, like somebody at the last minute decided it needed more. But if anything, Fighting is at its best when it’s doing less — scenes where the scrappy Shawn is trying to figure out how to beat a more skilled opponent or when Shawn and Zulay are engaging in the world’s aw-shucks-iest romance.

Fighting is fun — it has a charming B-movie feel (Terrence Howard probably represents the biggest “star” in the movie) and it delights in its use of grimy New York City settings that could have come straight from a mid-1970s movie. B-

Rated PG-13 for intense fight sequences, some sexuality and brief strong language. Directed by Dito Montiel and written by Montiel and Robert Munic, Fighting is an hour and 45 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.