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Review: Never Back Down

March 31st, 2008

Never Back Down


So I went to see a free screening of the first, widely distributed MMA movie Never Back Down from Summit Entertainment. MMA stands for mixed-martial arts and it’s the new sport that’s catching on in popularity with young males all across America.

UFC Classics DVD

It’s roots started in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championships) as tournament format style vs. style fights with no rules and has since evolved into a professional sport with rules and regulations governed by state athletic commissions. With the debut of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV and emergence of stars such as Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture and Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell, MMA has emerged from its shadowy past as unsanctioned no-holds barred toughmen contests to become one of the fastest growing sports in America.

Which brings us back to Never Back Down. This movie tries hard to tap into the popularity of MMA. It doesn’t work. Part of the problem lies in the casting of the lead actors. It’s almost as if the producers went out specifically to cast a young Tom Cruise (Sean Faris) and a young Fight Club-era Brad Pitt (Cam Gigandet) for the parts. This is problematic for anyone who’s ever watched an MMA fight because in real life the fighters most often look just this side of in-bred.

Forrest Griffin

This distracting casting is sure to piss off the fan base of MMA enthusiasts that would want to watch this movie. Not only that, most of the main characters are supposed to be in high school but they all look like they’re in their early 20’s.

Aside from the casting, the movie plays like a bad Xerox-ed copy of The Karate Kid only starring the annoying rich kids from The O.C. and with MMA instead of karate. There’s even a Mr. Miyagi character played by Djimon Hounsou. The story is lifted almost verbatim from The Karate Kid including a love interest that was the former girlfriend of the villain.

Of course, the people interested in seeing this movie in the first place probably don’t care a whole lot about the story. What they want to know is, how are the fights? The good news is that the fights are choreographed by the same team that choreographed the fights in 300. The bad news is that many of the fights are shot in close up meaning that you can’t see a lot of what is happening. Aside from a few moves, the fights end up looking very generic. They will not excite anyone used to watching real fights on a regular basis.

Overall, this movie was very disappointing and a bad debut for MMA at the cineplex. Let’s hope that David Mamet’s Redbelt next month is better and can breathe some life into the stagnating martial arts genre.

The Karate Kid DVD + The OC DVDQUALITY = Never Back Down poster

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