A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this action-drama is very much a fight film -- it's filled with brutal, gory scenes of men (and women, too) engaged in physical combat. They punch, kick, and choke each other, and there's plenty of cuts, bruises, and blood. There's also some swearing ("s--t," "bitch") and underage drinking (though viewers don't see actual liquor, the red plastic cups the teens hold are clearly full of alcohol). In many scenes, women and men wear nothing but bikinis and swim trunks, and there's some kissing and a little innuendo.
What's the story?
After his father dies in a car accident, leaving him saddled with survivor's guilt, high school student Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) is barely able to control his rage. A move from Iowa to Florida with his mother and brother offers him a fresh start, but it's quickly ruined when the school's top brawler, Ryan (Cam Gigandet), baits Jake into an ugly fight that he loses -- miserably. Enter Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), the mixed-martial arts guru whom Jake seeks out for guidance and training. With Jean's help, Jake may be able to tame his inner demons for good.
Is it any good?
Fight movies have their place in cinematic history (Rocky, anyone?); done right, they manage to capture the humanity in the brutality and the poetry in the punch, but NEVER BACK DOWN doesn't. The cuts are so quick that you can't appreciate any technique. And though, like better sports films, the film does attempt to reveal the internal struggles that fuel the physical ones, it does so with overly broad strokes. There's little nuance or complication and so many fight scenes that when the movie finally gets to the big beat down, it's almost anti-climactic -- it just feels like yet another battle. The movie's also riddled with cliches; there's a supportive girlfriend, a funny sidekick, mantras ("Control the outcome"), and even a race between the mentor and the mentee that's a straight rip-off of Rocky.
Director Jeff Wadlow does manage to drum up some excitement by letting the action unspool with a light touch. The script isn't memorable, but the dialogue is believable, and star Faris is blessed with an easy smile and a likable swagger. And Hounsou, though he delivers a one-note performance, is still fun to watch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Jake feels compelled to fight. How does his approach to fighting change from the beginning to the end? What lessons does he learn from his mentor? How does he show that he's learned them? Does Jake teach Jean anything? Why are there so many movies about fighting? What's the attraction? How do you know who's the "good" guy and who's the "bad" guy in movies like this? Is that realistic?
- In theaters: March 14, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: July 28, 2008
- Cast: Cam Gigandet, Djimon Hounsou, Sean Faris
- Director: Jeff Wadlow
- Studio: Summit Entertainment
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic material involving intense sequences of fighting/violence, some sexuality, partying and language - all involving teens.
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