You don’t sit down to a Britney Spears’ concert to hear great opera. That has to be the mind-set when you walk into the theater for “Never Back Down,” a story of an angry kid finding mixed martial arts and trying to turn his life around.
First of all, I’m a fan of “The Karate Kid,” all of the “Rocky” flicks (except No. 5), “Diggstown” and even “Gladiator” (not the Oscar winner). That said, I still wasn’t expecting much of “Never Back Down.”
But here’s what I hoped for: someone to root for, someone to root against, an inspiring coach, some eye candy and, of course, some training montages.
For the most part, I got what I wanted.
Someone to root for: Sean Faris stars as Jake Tyler, a tough kid with a troubled past. He’s a hothead who will use his fists whenever someone brings up his father’s death (which gets beaten to, well, death in this film). It’s similar to how Marty McFly reacts in “Back to the Future” when someone calls himchicken, except here people end up bloody.
Someone to root against: Ryan McDonald (Cam Gigandet) is evil. Sure he has dad issues as well, but there’s no excuse for the way he acts, and you desperately want him taken out. He is the evolution of the Kobra Kai.
An inspiring coach: At first I assumed Djimon Hounsou (“In America,” “Blood Diamond”) lost a bet and was forced into this role, but he gave the film all the credibility it needed. His “less is more” approach means never giving a long speech, but his imposing size is perfectly offset by his calm, Zen-like demeanor.
Eye candy: Shortly after moving to town, Jake meets Baja (Amber Heard), who has a thing for him. OK, their time together is pretty painful to sit through, but just think about Elisabeth Shue in “Karate Kid.” This is an upgrade.
The training montages: There are tons. And almost all of the fight sequences look painful. I winced numerous times. And yes, it appears Jake and Jean Roqua (Hounsou) re-created the “Rocky III” insanely odd, insanely homoerotic beach run, complete with hugs at the end.
I haven’t even talked about the amusing sidekick, the Dan Gable reference or the horrendous acting from Jake’s mom and little brother. But wasn’t some cheese expected in a film like this?
“Never Back Down” shows a boy trying to become a man with the theme that you can’t escape your past. It gives the audience exactly what it wants: a bloody good time and a hint of life lessons.
“Never Back Down”
Final Score: 7/10
Starring: Sean Faris, Djimon Hounsou, Amber Heard and Cam Gigandet
Directed by: Jeff Wadlow
Other: Opens at select theaters tonight. A Summit Entertainment release. Rated PG-13 (for fighting/violence, some sexuality, partying and language). Running time: 106 minutes.