As Jake has an emotional breakdown and reveals his inner demons, his mentor listens with an attentive ear... as he browses the shelves for lettuce. That's right, the pivotal scene of Never Back Down takes place in the produce aisle of a grocery store. Did the filmmakers think audiences would take this movie seriously when the drama peaks as the characters are shopping for spinach and romaine?
Effective drama can happen in a grocery store. Many priceless movie moments have taken place in unexpected locations. But Never Back Down doesn't bring earnestness and truth to this scene; it just feels awkward and clueless. There's also a scene where Jake breaks out his newly learned karate moves when a car behind him honks at a stop sign. And the music video-esque scene in which Jake's mother charges through the house and dramatically, um, does the laundry. Article continues below
The list of awkward scenes could continue. In fact, Never Back Down is awkward and clueless throughout. It's loud, flashy, brawny, and fast paced, but it doesn't have a brain behind its assets. Imagine a powerful Olympic athlete racing to a finish line, but never realizing he's on a treadmill. He might be performing well as an athlete, but he's not getting anywhere, and he's certainly not going to win the race.
Never Back Down delivers cliché after cliché. Jake (Sean Faris
) is a tough kid from the Midwest with a troubled past. After his younger brother is offered an opportunity in Orlando, he leaves high school football fame in Iowa and relocates with his family. All the while, Jake's mother (Leslie Hope) desperately tries to hold the family together as they mourn the recent loss of the man of the house.
At his new high school, Jake meets Baja (Amber Heard) and instantly develops a crush on her. Her current boyfriend, Ryan (Cam Gigandet
), is a bully who mistreats everyone and everything. When Jake makes a move on Baja, he quickly learns about Ryan's martial arts skills. After getting humiliated and beaten to a pulp by Ryan at a pool party, Jake vows to get even. But he's no match for Ryan. After all, Ryan's a champion in "The Beat Down," a secret martial arts competition in Orlando where only the best compete. (The website for the competition: Real Fights 4 Real. No joke.)
Luckily, Jake's new friend (Evan Peters
) tells him about a local martial arts master (Djimon Hounsou
) who can perfect Jake's fighting skills and settle the score with Ryan. Forget that these are students beating the concrete out of each other and the authorities are barely mentioned. Wouldn't a parent call the principal's office at some point? Or the police? Or a lawyer? Or social services? Just forget the logistics of 16- and 17-year-olds almost killing each other without much notice or opposition.
Instead, focus on the film's dialogue. Never Back Down has its actors stuttering lines like, "You wanted that fight, you just didn't want to lose," "Walking away and giving up are not the same thing," and "Sometimes fighting the fight means doing the one thing you don't want to do." The long, dramatic pauses after the lines are delivered imply the film actually believes it's being intellectual and thought provoking. Maybe a better movie could pull off these cheesy, melodramatic lines, but not Never Back Down, and not with actors who belong in an after-school special.
Yet, despite its never-ending list of flaws, Never Back Down is visually and audibly stimulating, complete with a catchy sound track, creative camera zooms and angles, ultra-loud sound effects, and CGI-enhanced hardbodies. In fact, the film might be worth a look if you're in the mood for a brainless, numbing, recycled heap that will assault your senses, and there is an audience who loves this kind of movie. Imagine if Fight Club impregnated Step Up. Their bastard child would be Never Back Down.