You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Never Back Down

Though it telegraphs its punches too obviously, the pugilism-and-perspiration epic “Never Back Down” has all the ingredients to be a knockout at the B.O.

Jake Tyler - Sean Faris Baja Miller - Amber Heard Ryan McCarthy - Cam Gigandet Max Cooperman - Evan Peters Margot Tyler - Leslie Hope Jean Roqua - Djimon Hounsou Charlie Tyler - Wyatt Smith

Though it telegraphs its punches too obviously, the pugilism-and-perspiration epic “Never Back Down” has all the ingredients to be a knockout at the B.O. and in the DVD market. Popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship will undoubtedly help, as will the meller’s glorification of violence and rationalization of revenge. Best part, though, is the cast: Everyone’s a model, everyone beats each other half to death, and no one looks as if they’ve ever suffered so much as a coldsore.

Sean Faris, who more than resembles a young Tom Cruise (and no doubt has stable of people promoting that very idea), is Jake Tyler, an angry young man from Iowa who winds up in Orlando, Fla., with his mom (Leslie Hope) and younger brother (Wyatt Smith). He immediately gets drafted into the local fight-club scene via a vicious beating from local bully Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet).

As anyone who has ever seen a boxing movie, any kind of sports movie or even a Western can tell you, the entire narrative will be focused on how, when and why Jake beats the living daylights out of Ryan. This isn’t giving anything away, any more than it’d be giving away the plot of summer to say that birds fly south for the winter. The tantalizing question is how the pic will explain all the violence away. “Never Back Down” tries, but not very hard.

Helmer Jeff Wadlow showed promise with “Cry Wolf” (2005), but sometimes seems to think he’s directing a commercial for beer, cars and/or feminine hygiene products. So much narrative detail takes place during musical montages that there’s barely time to get the requisite mean-spirited violence into the picture. But Wadlow manages.

Faris is fine, but pic has a far more charismatic star in Gigandet, who is gleefully, hatefully sadistic and evil as Jake’s more skilled antagonist. Djimon Hounsou, never seen enough, is terrific doing the Pat Morita thing as Jean Roqua, who runs the gym where Jake will learn not just mixed-martial-arts techniques, but life-lessons too, natch.

Amber Heard, on the other hand, has to be seen to be believed. If there were an award for best coyly sexual biting of lower lip by an actress in a leading role, she would win it hands down. Heard plays Baja (yes!), the other side of the Jake-Ryan triangle, and isn’t done any favors by all the preposterous slow-mo entrances and babe-alicious posturing. There’s more than enough random flesh parading through “Never Back Down” that an actual performance by Heard (soon to be seen, and far more appreciated, in “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane”) would have been welcome.”Never Back Down” exists in a world of beautiful people, beautiful homes and much unoccupied money, where the rules of physics and physiology are on a serious vacation — the human body can’t do or withstand the things this movie claims it can, and one can only hope that pic’s probable success doesn’t trigger a dramatic rise in schoolyard body-slams, arm locks and chokeholds.

Production values are first-rate.

Popular on Variety

Never Back Down

Production: A Summit Entertainment release and presentation of a Mandalay Independent Pictures and BMP production. Produced by Craig Baumgarten, David Zelon. Co-producer, Bill Bannerman. Directed by Jeff Wadlow. Screenplay, Chris Hauty.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Lukas Ettlin; editors, Victor DuBois, Debra Weinfeld; music, Michael Wandmacher; music supervisor, Julianne Jordan; production designer, Ira Random; art director, Andrew White; set decorator, Scott Jacobson; costume designer, Judy Ruskin Howell; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), Thomas E. Allen Sr.; sound designer, Lon Bender; stunt coordinators/fight choreographers, Jonathan Eusebio, Damon Caro; assistant director, John Woodward; casting, Sarah Halley Finn, Randi Hiller. Reviewed at Broadway screening room, New York, March 11, 2008. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 113 MIN.

With: Jake Tyler - Sean Faris Baja Miller - Amber Heard Ryan McCarthy - Cam Gigandet Max Cooperman - Evan Peters Margot Tyler - Leslie Hope Jean Roqua - Djimon Hounsou Charlie Tyler - Wyatt Smith

More Film

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content