Never Back Down: Special Edition
R1 - America - Summit Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (25th August 2008).
The Film

What better way to channel the teen-angst of a ‘changing high schools and finding a new crowd’ movie than to funnel it into an explosion of underground mixed martial arts fights between pretty-boys in Jeff Wadlow’s “Never Back Down” (2008).

Of course the story follows the angst of Jake Tyler (Sean Faris), a high school football star who has anger problems, who moves with his mother and brother to Florida and becomes a part of a new crowd of excess, indulgence, and incredible teenage wealth. Once he arrives he discovers an underground world of mixed martial arts fighting between all these rich kids with nothing better to do. He is invited to a party by his crush Baja Miller (Amber Heard) who sets him up for a fight with school master-fighter and bad guy Ryan (Cam Gigandet) where he gets beat up and then seeks revenge by joining a gym, with friend Max (Evan Peters), run by Brazilian mixed martial arts master Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou). Jake learns more about life, gets closer to Baja, and befriends his stern instructor Jean.

Everything cliché about “The O.C.” (2003-2007) is blended into the YouTube culture of underground fighting, which actually plays a large part of the story. Most of this YouTube aspect though isn’t used as any kind of dramatic purpose, but more as an indicator of status or knowledge of the younger generations. All of the characters are flatter than the paper they’re written on, the depth of story about Jake’s father dying because of driving drunk is only there to fuel his apparent rage, but even this is barely played up or dealt with. There seems to be some feeble attempt at non-violence in the movie with gym instructor Jean Roqua telling students never to use their mixed martial arts outside of his gym, but then once Jake does so and explains that he wanted to use Jean’s teachings for revenge, they become okay, but in the end the story seems to moralize confrontation. But this of course plays in to the hyper-masculine story where the girlfriend Baja and Jake’s mother (Leslie Hope) are strictly functional characters, living on the sidelines outside the central story, focusing instead on the confrontation and brutality of the mixed martial arts rather than any attempts at non-violence or alternative ways of resolving conflict. The scripting by Chris Hauty takes all of the hyper-masculine elements of “Fight Club” (1999) and blends them into an 80’s montage ridden movie, missing the point of “Fight Club” entirely in satirizing the culture that “Never Back Down” seems to embrace.

Though there’s not much to work on from the script, for the most part the actors don’t work very hard to go beyond it. Faris, Heard, Gigandet and Peters all play their roles in a functional way, hitting very bland and uninspired markers for the sake of progressing the story. What hurts the most about this movie is the fact that Djimon Hounsou, a brilliant actor who is capable of shining from any sidelined portion of a movie, is just used to train, provide a fairly sappy side story and move on. However, despite the small role and flat character, Hounsou is incredibly watchable, maybe the only watchable part of the movie.

Overall not even Hounsou’s talent can save this movie that’s been done before in so many ways. It tries to be a “Karate Kid” (1984) for the new millennium, and while Hounsou is up there with Pat Morita in terms of great actors to play trainers, the script and directing just aren’t there or interesting enough to really bring the movie to life or pull it out beyond the page.

Video

Presented in 2.40:1 widescreen, the video quality of the transfer is fine, there’s some graininess due to the focus on some of the shots, and the camera can be frustratingly shaky (in an unfocused and bouncing way it very much doesn’t appear on purpose) during the slow scenes compared to how slick or focused the camera is during the fight scenes which is where obviously most of the budget went.

Audio

The audio is presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and works fairly well, though there are some noticeable audio pops and shifts in quality during the film that are incredibly frustrating. The music that goes along with the movie is terrible, more about the way it’s used than the music itself. It feels like there was a contractual playlist of top 40 hits from rather than the writer or director choosing music to fit the emotionality or tone of the scene.
Optional subtitles are included in English and Spanish.

Extras

The “Extended Beat down Edition” is a 2-disc Special Edition set that comes loaded with special features including an audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes and more, here’s a disc by disc breakdown below.

DISC ONE:

In doing the review of the film I watched the “Extended Beat Down” cut of the film which includes some changed sound and added visuals, running at 113 minutes compared to the theatrical cut which runs for 110 minutes and is also included on this disc.

Watching the “Extended Beat Down” cut of the film begins with a 23 second director introduction where he talks about how he turned it up and added mostly to the fight intensity, even though the fights themselves don’t do that much for me either way.

Next is the audio commentary by director Jeff Wadlow, actor Sean Faris and screenwriter Chris Hauty, which plays with the “Extended Beat Down” version of the film, the trio do a good job of talking through the entire movie with no awkward pauses, though Wadlow dominates the conversation. There’s a lot of him talking about how he gained respect or how everybody on set thought he was good which gets a little frustrating, he does some joking with Faris and both seem to like to point out the ‘boob-shots’ of the movie, while Hauty seems to sit in the back and occasionally pop up when Wadlow beckons. Overall, a commentary that is a lot like the film, flashy, but fairly uninteresting though I didn’t like the film either so there wasn’t a big draw for me.

Next are the deleted scenes with introductions by director Jeff Wadlow. There are eleven scenes in all here’s a run down of the scenes, all of the introductions basically just set up the clip and the director admits that they weren’t entirely necessary to the movie. The scenes included are:

- “That’s Alright Mini-Jake” runs for 49 seconds, where Max and Jake’s little brother meet for the first time when Max comes over.
- “Salt in the Wound” runs for 1 minute and 15 seconds, Jake returns to school and sees that Baja and Ryan are together.
- “Just Wanted to Talk to You” runs for 49 seconds, Wadlow says he wishes he could have left this scene in, Jake tells Baja he just wants to talk and then walks away.
- “Extended Famous Montage” runs for 1 minute and 6 seconds, this is a montage of the whole school watching Jake’s street fight on YouTube or on their phones.
- “One of those Awful Days” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds, an extended training montage of Jake training set to some really whiny music.
- “A Little Stalker-ish” runs for 1 minute and 23 seconds, Max and Jake follow Jean around after he closes the gym.
- “Justus Von Liebig” runs for 1 minute and 10 seconds, Jake flexes in front of the mirror and his brother walks in on him.
- “Ask Him Again” runs for 42 seconds, this is an extra shot of Jake recovering from his broken ribs.
- “Your Semi-Finalists” runs for 1 minute and 9 seconds, the semi finalists are announced and get their own introductions.
- “Extended McCarthy/Villa Fight” runs for 1 minute and 17 seconds, the extended semi-final round fight between Ryan and Villa, interesting that this is still cut in the ‘Beat Down’ edition.
- “They Don’t Care Who Wins” runs for 1 minute and 38 seconds, Ryan challenges Jake to a Rematch.

The “Promo Reel” is a short featurette that runs for 1 minute and 37 seconds, this is a short spot to market “Never Back Down”, originally titled “Get Some”, is a trailer that’s just as hokey and played out as the theatrical film itself, it also features a short intro from the director.

There’s also a startup bonus trailer for “Twilight” which runs for 54 seconds.

DISC TWO:

The first featurette is “Mix It Up: Bringing MMA to the Big Screen” runs for 10 minutes and 15 seconds, this features interviews with actors Faris and Gigandet, director Wadlow and most importantly Fight Choreographers Esusebio and Caro about what Mixed Martial Arts means, where it comes from, and is fairly interesting to hear from the fight choreographers, though the Producers, actors and directors talk about how cool/brutal it is, Hounsou makes some interesting points about how MMA has overtaken pure Boxing in popularity.

“Blow by Blow: Breaking Down the Fights” is basically a selection of fight featurettes that include fights from the movie cut into segments with commentary by director Wadlow, the director of photography Lukas Ettlin and stunt coordinator Damon Caro where they basically break down the fights and talk about how they put it together. It gets kind of funny how Wadlow keeps rewinding on some of the scenes, but again like the commentary for the film if you’re not too interested already it’s not going to get any better. Here’s a rundown of the scenes included

- “Gridiron Tyler” runs for 5 minutes and 22 seconds, Caro, Ettlin and Wadlow discuss the helmet shot and the stunts in the opening Football Fight.
- “Backyard Brawl” runs for 3 minutes and 59 seconds, the trio breaks down the fight and talks about conceptualizing the fight and coordinating the sideline fights at the party.
- “The Main Event” runs for 8 minutes and 13 seconds, the three breakdown the major fight between Jake and Ryan at the party.
- “Roqua’s: Day One” runs for 4 minutes and 55 seconds, the first day at Jean’s gym is broken down, covering the entire scene and all the side montage style shots.
- “Half-Speed” runs for 2 minutes and 59 seconds, Jean starts to take Jake under his wing at the gym, a lot of slow motion used.
- “Road Rage” runs for 4 minutes and 17 seconds, the trio covers the road fight between Jake and the three randoms, Wadlow brags about how people will cheer for this scene.
- “Mega Training Montage” runs for 3 minutes and 49 seconds, the final training montage is covered, a lot of rewinds are used.
- “The Beat Down” runs for 16 minutes and 39 seconds, the entire Beat Down tournament is covered, which was apparently shot in one day.
- “Battle on the Black Top” runs for 14 minutes and 45 seconds, the final fight is covered in its entirety, the trio takes a lot of time to set up the fight and discuss how it came together.

The next featurette is “Star Power: Djimon in Training” runs for 2 minutes and 23 seconds, this featurette consists of an interview with Hounsou’s trainer, a professional mixed martial arts fighter, and footage of Hounsou in training as he was preparing. The featurette is actually fairly interesting to hear from a professional mixed martial arts fighter, it’s odd that there’s no interview with Hounsou despite the featurette being about his training.

“The Thrill of the Fight: Choreographing MMA” runs for 1 minute and 11 seconds, this featurette is an interview with stunt coordinator Caro about the different mixed martial arts moves featured in the film spliced with footage of the film, incredibly short, but still fairly interesting to hear about the sport itself. However the featurette is so short Caro doesn’t really go in-depth about anything.

Finally there is “Training the Cast” featurette which runs for 2 minutes and 9 seconds, this is where the training interview with Hounsou went. All the actors talk about their training and the intensity of what they had to learn in preparation for the movie, moderately interesting, the training footage is supplemented with footage from the movie, its interesting to see how rigorous the training was going into the movie, but unfortunately the movie just didn’t live up to the apparent intensity of the training.

Overall

The Film: D- Video: C+ Audio: C Extras: C+ Overall: C-

 


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