I got the “pleasure” of seeing this movie, called Never Back Down. What can I say about this movie to someone who hasn’t seen it? I would probably say “it’s like The Karate Kid without any of the charm and fun.” But let’s look at it in a little more depth.
Plot (MAJOR SPOILERS… basically the entire movie!!)
Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) helps his high-school football team win an important game. A frustrated player from the opposing team makes taunts about Jake’s father, who died while driving drunk. Infamously-hot-tempered Jake starts a brawl with the opposing player. Spectators capture the brawl with mobile phones and video-cameras. Soon, the brawl is uploaded to YouTube.
Jake gets thrown off the team for brawling, but takes it in stride because he is leaving this school anyway. He and his younger brother Charlie (Wyatt Henry Smith) are moving with their widowed mom to Orlando, Florida where Charlie has received a tennis scholarship. The Tyler brothers are close despite Jake’s penchant for fighting and getting into trouble, which greatly upsets their mom (Leslie Hope).
At his new school, Jake has a hard time fitting in. He catches the eye of a pretty classmate, named Baja (yes, like the Mexican food; played by Amber Heard). Later, Jake notices fellow student Max Cooperman (Evan Peters) getting beaten up on campus. Jake rushes to Max’s aid, only to discover that the “bullying” he disrupted was actually a street-kickboxing match.
At school the next day, Max lets it be known that there are videos on the internet of Jake’s football brawl, which has gained him a positive reputation on campus. Max invites Jake to come and learn mixed martial arts with his instructor, while Baja invites Jake to a party at her boyfriend Ryan McCarthy’s mansion. Jake declines the former offer but accepts the latter. At McCarthy Manor that night, host Ryan (Cam Gigandet) – having seen the internet footage – challenges Jake to demonstrate his brawling prowess in a fight against…Ryan himself. When Jake refuses the challenge, letting Ryan know that Jake came to the party only because Baja invited him. Ryan kisses Baja in front of Jake to verify whose girlfriend she is. Jake realizes that he’s being set up, and attempts to leave – until Ryan makes taunts about the disgraceful death of Jake’s dad. An angry Jake accepts the challenge but is brutally defeated by Ryan. Baja appears disgusted with Ryan for continually beating on Jake, despite the fact that Jake was obviously down and out.
A day later, Max comes to Jake’s house, and repeats the invitation to come and learn Mixed Martial Arts from Max’s instructor, Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou). This time, Jake accepts. He meets Max at Roqua’s gym and is introduced to Roqua himself. Roqua briefly interviews Jake…who, he senses, is there for the wrong reasons. Nonetheless, Roqua allows Jake to train with him – both in class, and personally before classes – on the condition that Jake does not fight anybody for any reason outside the gym. Jake notices that Roqua apparently lives in the gym.
Baja eventually dumps Ryan due to what a total jerk he is and Jake gets into a massive fight with three guys driving a yellow Hummer. Max records the fight and, again, it gets distributed all over the Internet. This further improves his social profile within the school, now being the second-most popular boy after Ryan, but leads to Jake getting kicked out of the gym due to the fact he was fighting outside of the gym.
But this isn’t enough to sway our anger-issued teen, who plots with Max to get Roqua cornered so he can have a heart-to-heart talk and get himself back in the gym. When Roqua goes grocery shopping, Jake confronts him and admits that Roqua was right: he signed up to train for the wrong reasons. Jake also tells Roqua the late Mr. Tyler’s story; evidently, Jake feels that his mother blames him for her husband’s demise. Roqua then tells his story: he had an younger brother, who was an excellent mixed-martial artist. One day in a bar, a local bully mouthed off at young Joseph, who was about to fight the bully himself. His brother won the brawl, only to be shot and killed by the bully’s friends. Jean’s father blames him for permitting the situation to escalate into violence which could have been avoided. Jean left home over that; he has not seen his father, or even set foot in Brazil, for the past seven years.
Eventually Jake gets invited to join the Beatdown–an underground fight contest where Ryan plans to have a rematch. When Jake refuses and Ryan discovers this turn of events he invites Max to McCarthy Manor on false pretenses. There Ryan engages Max in combat and beats him brutally. Fearing for his friends’ safety, Jake reverses his decision and enters The Beatdown after all – only to face Ryan. Roqua hears of this as well, and confronts Jake with an ultimatum: Jake will never be allowed near the gym again if he even goes to The Beatdown, much less fights in it. Jake – realizing that Roqua is trying to prevent him from making the same mistake which Roqua himself made with his own father – answers that Roqua’s only mistake was not doing what Jake himself is about to do. Said mistake wasn’t brawling; it was evading the conflict at hand, rather than confronting and resolving it.
At The Beatdown, both Jake and Ryan reach the semi-finals. Then Ryan is disqualified for eye-gouging. In view of this, Jake taps out one second into his semi-final bout (because his purpose for entering The Beatdown to begin with is no longer present). Outside the club, Ryan attacks Jake and they have a spectacular brawl in the club parking lot. Ultimately Jake wins the fight.
Jake has won the respect of all his fellow students, up to and including Ryan. For the first time in a long while, Roqua closes the gym and goes to visit his family in Brazil.
The fights are pretty good, I do have to admit that. Unlike The Karate Kid, the fights look downright brutal. You watch them and go “ow, that had to hurt irl.” And there’s A LOT OF THEM.
The training montages are kinda cool. It inspires you to want to get into shape.
It has some okay music (some of it is good, the rest is ..eh).
That’s.. uhh..about it.
Pretty much everything else. The story is cliche-ridden. In terms of being a simple martial arts movie, this is nothing new. Plenty of martial arts movies have been made about the bullied good guy who gets his butt kicked, learns to fight from a master, and tests out his newfound skills by getting revenge on his tormentors in the ring.
The plot itself isn’t even all that believable considering it’s HIGH SCHOOL students. How many high school students do you think run an underground fight club-esque tournament/beat downs in night clubs and million dollar mansions? Not to mention almost every “high school student” in this movie looks more buff than Brad Pitt was in Fight Club.
The characters/students in this film are all shown as pretty blood thirsty. All of these high school students are cheering the fights on (which I guess isn’t that much of a stretch) but just want to see someone die, I think. That seems like a bit much. And the students don’t stop when they should. Ryan is shown as downright cruel when he’s continually beating on someone who has already gone down/is out of it.
The mixed martial arts (MMA) aspect isn’t really talked about in depth other than “hey, it’s not just plain boxing any more kids.” I’m not sure if this movie is supposed to promote MMA or if it has done more damage to its reputation considering the rules weren’t followed like they would be irl.
The guy who plays Jake looks like a very young Tom Cruise. Throughout the entire movie I couldn’t get over this fact. The dude could have passed as a twin or something.
Again, wtf at the fact that these are HIGH SCHOOL students. I seriously can’t conceive a high school doing this. One or two students (jocks?), maybe but the ENTIRE SCHOOL??????? And your popularity in HS being based on how much you fight/how good of a fighter you are?! I’m glad I didn’t go to that HS!
All in all, I’ll give it 2 out of 5 punching gloves. If you can see it for free and want to see some brutal fights, watch it casually. I wouldn’t pay money for it and I don’t have any intention in watching it again.
If you want a classic, go watch The Karate Kid.