Never Back Down (2008)
Film: I’ve always loved the wrestling. Even after I discovered it wasn’t real I got sucked into the whole soap opera of the storyline’s, especially around the time of the Attitude Era, with the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and those guys. I did really love it, and even as an adult bought action figures and stuff, and then a friend of mine introduced me to the UFC.
I liked boxing and martial arts, and even went to those events at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but UFC took me by surprise. The brutality, the fitness, the strength, the determination… everything about it captured my attention; my love of violence in movies was possibly also tickled as well, and as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) entered the vernacular, via its sports men and women entering movies and TV and other pop culture areas, I became enamoured.
This meant that very quickly we got to see movies based around the sport, and this film, Jeff Wadlow’s Never Back Down, a film that became a franchise is all about the MMA, and like films like The Karate Kid, it’s all about the new guy fitting in via the sweet art of beating people up.
Jake (Sean Faris) has had to move to Orlando Florida with his family because his younger brother secured a position at an exclusive tennis school. It’s lucky though, because he has been getting into lots of trouble after the death of his father, and a particular nasty fight he had had during a football game is doing the rounds on the internet.
This piques the interest at everyone at his new school as there is an underground fight club, and very quickly, Jake is manipulated into fighting rich-kid douchebag but high-level buttkicker, Ryan (Cam Gigandet) by his girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard), where he is totally and utterly humiliated.
Jake decides to join a local gym run by Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou) after being introduced by his new friend Max (Evan Peters), who will teach him to fight as long as he promises to never fight outside of the environment.
This of course is impossible for the hot-headed Jake, who ends up at the wrong end of a few bits of biffo, but Jean continues to train him regardless, not knowing that his intention is to win The Beatdown, an underground fight competition held in a secret location, on the chance he might get to show his new skills to Ryan…
Essentially what we have here is Fight Club without the discussion about mental health and the rejection of modern life. It’s more than that though, it’s also the same sport movie that you’ve seen 100 times before but there is a couple of things that make it stand out.
The first thing is Cam Gigandet. The best bad guys are the ones who do two things: they don’t know they are the bad guy and believe them to be the heroes of their own stories, usually due to having so many hangers-on and hot girls following them. The other is they have to be so douchebaggy that you don’t want to see them get their comeuppance, you NEED to see it, and Gigandet, a handsome rooster for sure, has such a punchable smart-arsey face that when it does eventually happen, the experience is almost divine.
It also stars the now-infamous Amber Heard, who was a cute and bubbly up-and-coming star who had previously been in All the Boys Love Manley Lane and Drop Dead Sexy. I had forgotten that it was her who played Baja, and I remembered liking her, and her role in this is certainly the Barbie-like love interest, but she does play it well. I’m gonna miss her not playing Mera in the next Aquaman movie because I liked her in that too.
The fighting choreography is also really good, and this version of the film on this DVD has, according to Wadlow, a remixing of the fight effects to make it more crunchy sounding. I do so love the sound of a breaking bone (on someone else) so I appreciated the effort.
This film does for MMA what The Fast and the Furious did for car culture: brought it kicking and scream into the world of mainstream. I want to say it’s awful, but as a teen sports movie that is more about the visuals than a deep story or a carefully constructed narrative, it’s not too bad.
Extras: There is a couple of interesting extras on this disc, especially the bit with MMA legend Bas Rutten. The disc opens with previews for the ‘comedy’ Semi Pro, Feel the Noise and Superhero Movie.
Commentary from director Jeff Wadlow, actor Sean Farris and writer Chris Hauty is not too bad. All three give interesting takes on what their perspective was of each scene.
Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Jeff Wadlow are a series of 11 deleted scenes that has Wadlow explain why they were removed from the film. Generally I think films are better without the scenes removed, when they aren’t just for gore or blood reasons, and as usual, some of these would have dragged the film down.
Mix It Up: Bringing MMA to the Big Screen looks at adapting a new modern sport into a new film franchise, and the training the actors went through to get into condition for the film.
How to Fight Like a Champ with Bas Rutten. Now Bas Rutten is an MMA legend, known as El Guapo (the Handsome One), Bas has an MMA record of 33 fights and 28 winds, and of those, 11 by KO and 14 by submission… simply, he’s a damned war machine. In this, he both discusses his sport, and comments on some of the fights from the film.
WISIA: I find the film strangely alluring and keep returning to it… much like the Fast and Furious films.