March 20, 2008

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Never Back Down (PG-13)
An outcast teen learns to Never. Back. Down. in Never Back Down, an extended remix of every fight montage ever made, this time set in Orlando.

Orlando here is portrayed as a mix of Beverly Hills and that island from Lord of the Flies. Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) and his mother (Leslie Hope) and little brother Charlie (Wyatt Smith) move to O-Town after the Tyler paterfamilias dies in a car accident and Charlie gets accepted to an Orlando tennis academy. Jake was a testosterone-filled football player but he’s left that behind because …uhm, the movie can only focus on so many sports, OK? However, at his last game at his old school, someone filmed the knock-down fight he got into on the field and soon after he arrives at Orlando’s answer to West Beverly High, everyone knows about his aggression. Everyone, including Ryan (Cam Gigandet), the devil incarnate bundle of ’roid rage inside the body of a boy band singer who likes to cap off the parties at his crazy parents’ mansion with an ultimate fighting match wherein he kicks the butt of some unsuspecting mark. Jake is just such a mark — lured to the party by Ryan’s flirty girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard). Naturally, Ryan is able to egg Jake on to get him to fight, and naturally, Jake — all confused by this kicking and martial arts where there should be only punches and head-butting — loses. Just in time to cue the training sequences with Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou).

The name Baja, the lavish mansions, the fixation with ultimate fighting — Never Back Down is not a movie you look to for realism or sensible story development or characters with more than one dimension. Never Back Down is a movie you watch because you want to see one guy punch another guy and then see that second guy kick that first guy in the face. And on that score, the movie delivers. Do I believe Hounsou’s elaborate back story about a brother and a disappointed father and yada yada about discipline and regret? No. Do I believe that he might kick the stupid out of Jake if Jake doesn’t obey his rules about not fighting out of class? Totally. And to enjoy this salty little beef jerky of movie, that’s all you need. B-

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving intense sequences of violence, some sexuality, partying and language — all involving teens. Directed by Jeff Wadlow and written by Chris Hauty, Never Back Down is an hour and 46 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Summit Entertainment.