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Fred Learns to Never Back Down

Published March 13, 2008 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Summit Entertainment
Never Back Down Poster Never Back Down
Remember in the '80s when they used to make all those stupid fight movies? Never Back Down is just like that. I was in the mood for a stupid '80s fight movie where fights happen just because we want to see fights, so Never Back Down was perfect.

Never Back Down Review

The hero has daddy issues, because what else could be bothering him? He's got depth though because he knows about The Iliad in English class. That impresses the school's leading blonde, but he knows how smart she really is underneath all that hair and makeup.

Everyone speaks in either metaphors of psychoanalysis. If they're not talking about unpacking their boxes, they're declaring the reasons for each other's actions. Well, sometimes they just talk like modern kids, which is all I have to say about today's education system.

The film changes some things up though. For one, this isn't the unpopular geek getting picked on. He's instantly popular thanks to his reputation. His rival isn't so much a bully as a businessman type who's otherwise nice and charming. Then it gets personal later, but it's not totally Cobra Kai.

Of course, there's a little guy who turns out to be a really tough fighter, and the teen angst should have been more of a placeholder and less "sincere." At least the smart little brother isn't annoying. He picks his moments well. They make a reference to grasshopper, so they do know what they're doing. There's even a Gipper shot.

The fights start out kind of looking like bitch fights but you quickly see there's a narrative point to each one. The first teaser is an initiation. The first real fight is a crash course, and then there are fights showing his progress, but there's still more to learn. He'll need to adapt.

It does actually teach you a little bit of the technique of mixed martial arts. There is a reason just wailing on people doesn't quite work. There are some montages, of course. Technically, one of them is an entire scene taking place all in the same location at the same time, but it still looked like a montage to me. Later on, there are some sick homemade training techniques. One montage even incorporates the mom's housekeeping, so there's a new one.

Now, slow motion cheek jiggles don't make this Raging Bull. It's more like a superficial Fight Club, as in it's really brutal fighting with no social commentary or even insight into the human condition.

Mentioning the hero's dad is like calling Marty McFly chicken. You'd think at some point he'd realize, "Hey, people who don't even know my family are saying that. Maybe they have ulterior motives." Of course, if THAT's your problem with Never Back Down, you're in the wrong movies.

Some interesting aspects that are not developed include the teen organization of an underground fight circuit. That's pretty impressive for kids who can't even hold their pants up.

It's got a good message though. It's about turning any situation around to your advantage, and that maybe you don't know everything. You think our style is bullsh*t? Okay, how's your way working out?

It actually suggests that denying your rival a fight is the ultimate victory. I actually thought he was going to back down at one point, and I was going to accuse the movie of false advertising. Don't call it Never Back Down if you really mean Sometimes Back Down If There's A Good Reason. But they find a way to give the audience the satisfaction without selling out their moral.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Summit Entertainment

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