I didn’t think I had seen Never Back Down so originally I was going to go with it for this day’s review since I’m the kind of guy who has to watch things in sequential order with no skipping around. It turns out though that not only did I see it, I reviewed it on my blog back in 2008. Of course my reviewing skills weren’t as masterful then as they are now so the review doesn’t amount to much more than “I didn’t like this movie because it sucked” but that still told me enough about it to know it was cool to jump straight to its 2011 direct to DVD sequel.
There was only one reason I wanted to watch this movie, and that’s Mr. Michael Jai White. Of course I already talked about my fondness for him back in the Blood and Bone review and while I was trying to avoid doubling up on actors during this marathon, I felt it was ok to make this exception for two reasons; 1) White also directs this movie in addition to acts in it, and 2) I wanted to see him in a role that perhaps had more dialogue and emoting as his character in Blood and Bone was very quiet and internal. So although I would normally never go near this movie and have already reviewed three or four movies about underground fighting tournaments, I fired up Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown.
The primary story is about a group of bland college students with their bland college student problems gearing up to enter an underground MMA-esque fighting tournament called The Beatdown, which I guess is run by a character from the first movie which of course I have absolutely no memory of. I gotta say, I really didn’t care about these guys at all, especially our two leads – Mike and Zach. They were so blah I honestly kept losing track of which was which. I know one of them was an asshole with a hot girlfriend he cheated like shit and the other guy was interested in the hot girlfriend and so they didn’t get along so well. One of them has a dad who turned out to be gay and he catches a lot of shit for it from people which is weird because who at a college level age would give a shit about that? One of them also could go blind from fighting because of something to do with their retina. All variations of movie problems we’ve seen countless times before and there is nothing done here with them that is either unique or interesting.
The other two characters who hang around with them – Tim and Justin – are far more interesting and are actually played by real MMA fighters. Tim is this gigantic brick monster of a human being whose Mom is forced to work a strip club in order to support the family. He looks so out of place as a college student and his Mom looks like she’s maybe six years older than him but I dug this guy, even if his acting was quite stiff compared to the others. He has one of my favourite moments in the movie where he puts down the textbook he is reading in order to beat the shit out of some drunk guys harassing a girl. Now that’s what I call a study break! Booooom!
The Justin character starts out silly as he is this emo nerd working at a comic book store who in the course of about an hour of his life gets rejected by a girl and then beat up and stabbed. After that kind of evening he decides he also needs some training though I’m not sure why as clearly he is already muscular as fuck. His character has the biggest arc as he goes some routes I definitely did not expect, even if some of them feel a little sudden.
However the best character in the movie by far is White himself as Case Walker, an ex-con and former MMA superstar who lives in a trailer and reluctantly agrees to train our heroes. This guy is awesome. He doesn’t go the Mr. Miyagi route as the insanely nice and helpful trainer, the guy is an asshole that they have no choice but to put up with in order to be trained. It is a softer character than the one he played in Blood and Bone as here we do get the scene where he explains his tragic backstory (though that part is immediately followed by him beating the shit out of a bunch of cops as though they were worried making him sensitive would make him less awesome) and he has a few moments towards the end where his walls come down a little bit but for the most part he’s a complete hardass and the movie immediately becomes better when he is around.
That’s the biggest problem of the movie right there – it’s not about Case Walker. Here we have a guy that would make for a far more interesting movie but instead we have to spend all this time with these whiney college dudes and their whiney college dude situations. We’re stuck watching to see if whats-his-face will get the girl and it’s frustrating because the camera refuses to stop showing us that even though we know somewhere else, Case Walker is probably doing something way more awesome. I would have loved to see a more fleshed out story about him. For example, why do these dirty cops who keep showing up hate him so much? It seems like it’s because of racism but is there more to it? Tell us movie! No I don’t care if this other dude repairs his relationship with his gay dad! Stop talking about that! It’s like getting a bite of ice cream every 10 minutes of eating liver; it’s not always worth powering through to get to the good stuff.
The fight scenes themselves are pretty good which is not surprising since one would assume White knows that when filming a fight, you should actually show the god damn fight. The fight with Walker vs the cops and the one with Tim vs the strip club assholes are probably my two favourites which is maybe not the best sign since the highlight is probably supposed to the Beatdown but I don’t know man, the Beatdown seems kinda lame. Why would people want to watch that when real MMA exists? It’s fine, but almost every fight before it is better so it makes the climax underwhelming.
Probably the absolute worst part of this movie though is the damn soundtrack. Good. Lord. Is that music what’s popular these days?! I didn’t recognize a single song but they were all terrible across the board and almost every scene features one. I don’t think these was even a score, it was all shitty pop and nu-metal. If the fight is intense, let the intensity speak for itself. Don’t use crunchy guitars and white dudes screaming about their feelings to trick me into thinking it’s intense. Though these songs do make some already laughable sex scenes into some of the more ridiculous on screen boning I’ve seen in quite some time.
Never Back Down 2 is a strange beast in that half of it is really awesome but then you have to deal with this other half that keeps getting in the way of the good stuff. I would be in full support of Never Back Down 3: Case Walker Does Awesome Shit Without Pretty Boy College Assholes Getting in the Way and hope it one day gets to see the light, though maybe shorten the title guys because I don’t think that would fit on a DVD box.