Never Back Down
PG-13
Entertainment: +1
Acceptability: -2

Dijmon Hounsou, Sean Faris, Amber Heard, Cam Gigandet.

FILM SYNOPSIS: This high testosterone actioneer concerns a moody transfer student who finds himself the focus of interest because of his fighting ways. But he doesnt want to fight. He just wants to be left alone. But, therell be none of that. You see, the school villain and the prettiest girl in the twelfth grade entice him into a fight club, where kids beat each other up for the pleasure of onlookers. Its loaded with scantily clad teens, lots of jaw-busting brutality and a hint of a message.

PREVIEW REVIEW: Well, were way out of January and February, the months when all bad movies are laid to rest. But the less than subtly titled Never Back Down is another of those monstrosities Dr. Frankenstein spliced together from parts of putrefying old teen movies. And by old, I mean movies released two or three weeks ago. Suddenly Im filled with dread that March will also be overloaded with Hollywoods movie corpses. (Still think I have a great job?)

How in the world did they get Dijmon Hounsou involved in this mess? Mr. Hounsou (In America, Blood Diamond) is a solid actor with a good rep for choosing films with substance. And certainly he stands out here, but mainly for the sculpting his trainers did to his physique. This guy looks like he could beat up Tarzan. And certainly he tries to bring dignity to his role. But theres no more truth to his subplot than there is to any of other nonsense were forced to endure.

Now, younger filmgoers may find something to relate to. They like stories where teens are in control, not teachers, not parents. And teen guys like looking at teen girls in itsy bitsy bikinis, and teen girls enjoy bared, muscled male chests. Theres plenty of that here, mostly to hide the feeble plot.

I know from talking to youngsters in my church that the high school crowd, like the rest of us, enjoys a film with something to say. I doubt, however, many will attend this effort for its deep meaning. Its meant to satisfy baser instincts. Teens can view it with the optimistic illusion that if you train your body enough, you too can beat up the school bully. And of course, there are all those bodies in itsy bitsy bikinis.

Theres a scene where the coolest and best built of the class of 2008 have a party. It looks like the Playboy mansion, with not only every chick a stone-cold fox, complete with beer in hand, but with two of them making out for onlookers while they soak in a bubble bath. This decadent scene would have jaw-dropped Caligula. After this same-sex make-out scene, the tour moves to the backyard where a crowd of swimwear-clad teenagers encircle two bloodied combatants. This scene is reminiscent of gladiators vs. the Christians, where the pummeling and humiliating of fellow beings was done for the satisfaction of the crowd. Watching all these teens enjoying the pain and punishment of their fellow classmates, I kept thinking, this isnt a teen drama, its a horror show. The characters portrayed arent humans, but rather soulless pod people covered in fetching human-wear.

In 1999s Fight Club, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton form a disillusioned mens club that meets once a week to fight bare fisted. Its rated R, so the punching and blood-spraying is a bit more explicit than this teen version, but neither film truly explores the cultural phenomenon where people gather to participate in the brutalization of others. Surely there could be a screenplay for this theme. People, including teens, seem so disconnected and desensitized that they want to be hit and do some hitting in order to feel something. Theyre emotionally dead inside, and the secular society has convinced them that anything, including savage beatings, is superior to exploring the reason for emptiness through spiritual means.

Guilty over not driving his drunken father home, which resulted in a deadly car crash, the moody lead and his mother and brother have moved to Orlando, Florida. Quickly, he discovers that his brawling reputation has preceded him due to the Internet and picture cell phones. The new school has a villainous Arian type, a master at mixed martial arts a pugilistic sport where feet are used as much as the fists to pummel an opponent. Of course, this smiling creep beats the heck out of our protagonist, a Tom Cruise replicant, with Toms hair and toothy grin. So our bruised hero gets proper training from a Mr. Miyagi-like karate tutor, has a final showdown with that Arian fellow, and gets the bodacious babe named Baja. (I kid you not, her names Baja.)

The filmmaking is poor at best. One of the messages is that there are consequences for our actions. But not in this film. And along with enduring its anemic message, the film is replete with far too many training montages, and we are subjected to a pounding score driven by non-discernable lyrics. The dialogue is enhanced by words like dude, the melodramatic acting is masked by buffed bods, the action sequences muddled, and the direction pointless.

Other than that, I really liked it.

DVD Alternatives: The Quiet Man. Romantic blarney about a retired boxer (John Wayne) returning to the old sod and falling for Maureen OHara, despite her brutish brothers objections. Good fight scene during the finale, but it also has other elements: good storyline, colorful Irish locations, a tender romance and witty dialogue.

Or:

Rocky. Best Picture of 1976, it stars Sly Stallone as an underdog boxer who gets a million-to-one shot at fame and fortune. Okay, its a little corny, but it has a lot of heart. And the boxing sequences are incredibly well filmed.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Summary
Crude Language: A couple of crude sexual comments. The bad guy uses the word bitch to describe guys he thought were weak.
Obscene Language: 10 or so obscenities, with an equal amount of minor expletives.
Profanity: I caught no misuse use of Gods name other than several oh my Gods.
Violence: Though the beatings are handled in a way to avoid an R-rating, still the violence is sensory pummeling; lots and lots of martial arts kicks and flips. Blood: All the combatants get bloodied, yet scenes later theyve healed completely.
Sexual Intercourse: Girls kissing, some suggestive sexual activity; couples making out at a party; a playful, but rough sexual encounter between the teen leads.
Nudity: Real close I cant believe manufacturers can charge for their minimal swimwear the material certainly cant cost much.
Homosexual Conduct: A teen boy flirts with another boy; two scantily clad girls are making out at a party for the benefit of passersby.
Sexually Suggestive Action/Dialog: A couple of suggestive sexual remarks.
Drug Abuse: It is implied that there is underage drinking at a party.
Other: Argumentative relationship between teen and his mother.
Running Time: 90 minutes
Intended Audience: Older Teens and Up

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