Friday, March 14, 2008

Never Back Down

“Win, lose, it makes no difference. This is my fight; everyone’s got one.”

Ripping off the plot of The Karate Kid the film focuses on a high school student in a new school trying to fit in only to get bullied by the local martial arts stud (Cam Gigandet). Jake (Sean Faris) is an angry young man who blames himself for the death of his father (Steve Zurk), and although he is never looking for a fight, somehow one always manages to find him.

Jake makes the move with his little brother (Wyatt Smith) and mother (Leslie Hope) who disappears for large stretches of the film only to show up to treat her son like shit, until, of course, the plot calls for her to gain insight and understanding and support him in his big moment.

Daniel-Son, I mean Jake, receives a beatdown at the hands of the cocky Ryan (Gigandet) who is the highest rated fighter in the local underground martial arts fighting scene. Jake is given renewed hope by his pal Max (Evan Peters) who finds him a guru (Djimon Hounsou, in a not half-bad Mr. Miyagi impersonation) to teach him some new moves.

Of course, after much screwing up and soul searching, Jake learns more from just marital arts fighting from his teacher (what a shock!), and becomes a better man winning the heart of his rival’s former girlfriend (Amber Heard) and even choosing to leave fighting behind. But wait, you can’t end the movie without a showdown with the baddie and so Jake earns a chance to get it on with Chong Li, I mean William Zabka, I mean Ryan, at the latest underground tournament.

This film doesn’t have a single original idea. Not one. It borrows it’s main plot from The Karate Kid mixing in a little martial arts tournament revenge theme ala Bloodsport, but that’s not enough. It also steals scenes, in shockingly obvious ways, from Rocky III (Rocky and Apollo’s run on the beach), Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indy shooting the show-off swordsman), and countless others. And for those who love a good 80’s montage, you may have found your favorite film ever.

Aside from blatant plagiarism the film has a mind boggling number of issues. First is the cast itself. You have to wonder about the casting of Gigandet for the role of a high school student (he looks like a guy in his mid-thirties). If you wanted an old guy to play the Zabka role, why not just get Zabka himself? But at least Gigandet is competent to play the bland movie baddie. Faris, who was obviously cast for for his likeness to a young Tom Cruise (more so than say acting or fighting talent) broods for so much of the film I began to believe he might be a vampire with a soul.

Out of everyone here only Heard comes off okay, though she’s not asked to do much other than look photogenic for the camera and show concern from time to time. The film’s best scene involves her on all fours on top of our hero with the camera strategically placed to look down her top. This ain’t high art folks.

Of course the writing is so bad, even with top-named actors, it’s hard to foresee anyone pulling this off. Here are some examples of the film’s dialogue (all delivered with a straight face):

“Now for the bad news. It’s gotta’ end with you lookin’ like a bitch.”
“The only time you’re happy is when you’re hurting people.”
“Ryan, he’s got crazy skills.”
“What it comes down to, you’re either backing out or you’re getting in.”

Of course compared to the plot the dialogue almost sounds good. Jake is a jerk who always makes the wrong move until the plot needs him to do something else for a change. There’s nothing in his character worth cheering for, and we spend most of our time wondering why Baja (Heard) is attracted to him. Of course she’s no prize herself as she’s the one who set him up for his first beatdown and then blames him for being upset with her. Quite a catch, but hey, she looks great in a bikini! Maybe they are a perfect pair after all.

This is the kind of film Mystery Science Theater 3000 was invented for. Exceptionally bad from the first shot to the film’s inexplicable epilogue (which will leave you either strangling the person next to you or rolling in the aisles) this is a film so awful it has to be seen to be believed. And the film never seems to consider that these characters are all supposedly minors participating in their own fight club. You didn’t have an issue with this MPAA? I’m not saying you might not have some fun laughing at this turkey, but you might want to find a theater with a bar, just in case.

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