Never Back Down: Better Than It Needs to Be


With a generic title like Never Back Down—what, was Action-Related Content already taken?—there’s no way this unlikely hybrid of The Karate Kid and Fight Club could set your hopes lower without scraping the Mariana Trench. But if you dig the eye-of-the-tiger genre—which rarely rewards anyone who can’t pick nits between Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor and Kickboxer 5: The Redemption—you’ll recognize director Jeff Wadlow’s brawny teen melodrama as a modest surprise: better acted than needed, better made than expected. Sean Faris, the evident result of that top-secret Tom Cruise/Ben Affleck/Adam Sandler gene-splicing experiment, plays the troubled new kid at an Orlando high school who gets a YouTube-broadcast beatdown from an upper-crust underground fighter (Cam Gigandet). With the help of a Senegalese Mr. Miyagi (Djimon Hounsou) and the bully’s regretful girlfriend (Amber Heard), the kid gets his esteem back and loses the chip on his shoulder—but the bully still wants another shot. Chris Hauty’s script hits every predictable plot point, but the engaging cast looks like a portfolio of future stars—especially Faris, a buff beefcake who’s self-effacing enough to make a credible underdog—and the bone-jarring fight scenes rock as hard as they’re shot and cut. It may be just OK now—but trust me, when it airs at 2 a.m. on Spike between male-enhancement ads, it’s gonna look like The Magnificent freakin’ Ambersons.