If you first watch the trailer for this film, you would be frothing at the anticipation of watching this flick. The trailer was successful in piquing audience interest in that it seemed to contain a pretty good story aside from the cool action-packed fight scenes. But Never Back Down (2008) actually has a very typical action feature plot.
The lead character’s – Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) – personality is influenced by an unpleasant past which always gets him into trouble every time some bully tries to bring it up. With just that sentence alone action lovers would already be able to tell how the rest of the story goes. In fact, everybody would be able to predict what happens.
Want to hear more cliché? He is the new guy “from a small town” who becomes enemies with the famous badass in his new school. He gets beaten up and thus wants to avenge himself. He meets his scrawny sidekick, who eventually becomes the antagonist’s prey to provoke him to fight. He also finds his “sensei” who would teach him how to fight the right way which would eventually and obviously lead him to victory. And last but not the least he gets attracted to a hot girl which later turns out to be his opponent’s girlfriend.
It is basically 99% Karate Kid with the 1% being that it is not a Karate movie but Mixed Martial Arts.
Another factor that makes this motion picture your average action film is the actors’ lack of ability to bring out the emotion that is supposed to be there. Now we know that we should not really be expecting great drama skills from most if not all action stars, but the anger and regret that should have made fighting a must in the equation was not communicated well enough. It has also been brought about by the backstory and script that fell short on its objective to put depth to the movie. In other words, the movie was not able to connect to its audience in this aspect.
One would notice as well that there are some plot holes in this movie: His father died in a car crash with him inside the truck after they drank in a bar. But how did a teenage kid manage to enter a bar? ID’s are supposed to be presented upon entering. And even if you say that he was able to get in unnoticed or unchecked, it still seems too lame a story to start with.
What about ‘kids’ engaging in bloody street fights? Aren’t there any adults trying to step in to stop the dangerous activity? In fact, you would get the impression that it is encouraged since one is being held inside Ryan’s house. Where are the parents of these kids? Indeed, a better concept could have been thought of.
There is also one more point wherein the movie failed with regard to talking to its audience. It’s a film mostly for the teenage market. And yes, it may have the intention of teaching lessons about revenge, responsibility and choices but it can be said that the movie wasn’t successful in doing so. Why? Because instead of giving emphasis to the lesson, there were more exposure of teenage dreams such as living in mansions, driving pretty cars, hosting parties every week with girls in bikinis, parents even offering you alcohol, and brawling as a cool thing to get into. Moreover, each time someone uploads an online video of Jake winning street fights, people start looking at him as if he’s a celebrity. Again, the story-telling is not impressive and does not produce a good impact.
If you think about it, the movie could have performed the same even without a solid backstory. It’s as if the movie was all about fighting or MMA with the story just as a filler, instead of having a nice and meaningful story with the fighting serving only as a plot device. Perhaps if the real goal for never back down is to simply promote the then lesser known contact sport that was entering the mainstream, then we can say that they have succeeded.
To be fair, the right actors were chosen for the characters and they did pretty well in portraying them – individually. Most especially Cam Gigandet, who played the villain, Ryan. He made a convincing image of a guy overflowing with arrogance. Sean Faris looked perfect for a guy who is good-hearted yet someone you do not want to mess with. The same goes with Amber Heard. Her beauty fits well with the image of a simple girl masked with her high profile made by being the girlfriend of the good-looking school bully. Djimon Hounsou was also a salvaging factor for this film, albeit he also seemed too good a personality to be included here.
Now let’s get down to the fight scenes in which action flicks are really watched for. Sadly for the action movie geeks, there is nothing new and extraordinary to see about it. But the main actors to my knowledge are not martial artists in real life, so in that respect the actors/director combo actually did a rather impressive job with the fight scenes. As has been implied earlier, the action itself was the main and best feature.
Cinematography is also common, with handheld video cameras serving to do the trick of cross-cutting. But on a more positive note, there are a number of shots that gives the audience a great view of the biggest blows made during fights.
The soundtrack was chosen pretty well, with Linkin Park and Red Jumpsuit Apparatus songs fitting the training montage. Teenagers would most appreciate it, especially given the irse in popularity of MMA around the time…
All in all, it is an entertaining and feel-good film which could pass for a lazy weekend pastime. Though there is not much to the plot or script that we haven’t seen in others already, the execution of the fight scenes was made fairly well. It’s not lame but also far from winning any awards out there.