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Saturday, 28 July 2018

Retro Review: Never Back Down (2008)

Never Back Down
Cast: Sean Faris, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet, Evan Peters, Leslie Hope, Dijmon Honsou
Genre: Martial Arts
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $41 million

Plot: A frustrated and conflicted teenager arrives at a new high school to discover an underground fight club & meet a classmate who begins to coerce him into fighting

'Back Down, Now'

Karate Kid meets Kickboxer for Millenials, only lamer with mixed martial arts, Never Back Down is a recycled version and weak imitation of Karate Kid that is oh so similar, yet lacks any sort of weight and artistry to make it as memorable as the 1984 classic. The plot is the same, the characters are pretty much identical and the formula and narrative structure are much like The Karate Kid

A troubled teen who excelled as an (American) footballer, meets his match in a bully in high school after he and his family relocate from Iowa to Orlando, Florida. Jake gets beaten up badly and feeling frustrated, he and his friend take up kickboxing/vale tudo -style MMA lessons with the help of a teacher, Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), who helps to give Jake a few lessons and boost his confidence. 

Watching Never Back Down, it seems as though the director and writers of this film clearly aimed this at easily impressionable teens and young men, who enjoy watching some sweaty blokes with glistening abs & muscles go toe-to-toe against one another. 

Sean Faris, who later starred in the bloody awful The King of Fighters, based on the SNK fighting game, doesn't possess enough edge, badassery, emotional vulnerability to play the tortured hero, Jake. The characters are all one-dimensional, lack personality, likeability and are utterly charmless that I didn't care for each of them, especially the main character. The performances are one-note: you have the pretty boy but guy who wants to do good, do-gooder, you have the pretty boy villain and you have the young attractive girl/love interest the hero tries to win over her heart. The film and the story, along with the occasionally clunky dialogue, are equally trite and throwaway, which don't attempt to build any foundation around the story and the events within that story. It seems like Never Back Down existed just to show off more of the fights and everything is second nature. Or be it an afterthought. 

The music is a mixture of okay to bad, the kicks, punches and hits are definitely much more brutal & nasty in its execution, whilst the film suffocates underneath its glossy aesthetics. It has none of the simplicity and easy-going nature of The Karate Kid and other notable martial arts-based flicks, rather it goes for the flashy and cool approach, which in turn, takes away from its grounded feel. I'm not too keen on the rickety at times and overly trendy MTV - style direction and as a movie itself, this is far from entertaining. This film is so dense & flat, take away the fights and it'll be a nothing film. 

It is extraordinary how much it wants to be and tries to be The Karate Kid. Yet it doesn't even come close when it comes quality, and its earnest, at times, moments feels forced and fails to emotionally connect with the viewer. 

Final Verdict:

Never Back Down is so tired, watered down and doesn't attempt to do anything new or interesting with mixed martial arts or martial arts-based movies in general for that matter. It's just one overly cliched, dull underdog ''triumphing over evil'' tale that has been attempted so many times before, and executed in far superior fashion than in this offering. 

This is a martial arts disposable potboiler of a movie, tailor-made for younger audiences, and a completely and unbelievably hackneyed one as well. 

If you want your fix of MMA, watch UFC instead of this film. 

I felt as I was watching this that I had my brain cells smashed and pulverised by the other person. That's how it was when I watched Never Back Down. ''Never again'' I said to myself afterwards.


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