Review: Don’t Rise to ‘Never Back Down’
What is a teen football star to do when he’s ended his final game in a brawl and mom is moving the family from Iowa to the bimbo belt of Florida? If his name is Jake Tyler, he packs his glory days into a box marked “useless junk,” loads it into a van and takes his fighting fists on the road.
A box labeled “useless junk” is a risky recurring prop to insert into a disposable sports drama such as “Never Back Down,” a bash-athon for boneheads that aspires to be the “Fast and the Furious” of the mixed martial arts set.
Sean Faris affects a downbeat Tom Cruise attitude as Jake, a hotheaded school athlete simmering with guilt and grief over the accidental death of his dad. With his working knowledge of “The Iliad,” the cornfed Jake is out of his element in Orlando, depicted here as a vast Hooters theme park teeming with fight-craving mobs and nubile nymphets smooching in bubble baths.
Jake’s football antics make him the talk of his new town and a target for the school’s ruffian, Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), who never misses an opportunity to show off his extreme-fighting elan and Abercrombie abs. Fired up by Ryan’s taunts, Jake seeks out trainer Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou) to school him in mixed martial arts.
“Never Back Down” serves up the usual mixture of pounding rock ditties, athlete-in-training montages and kissy-kissy with the ostensible object of Jake’s affection, Baja (Amber Heard, revealing a talent as big as an 8-by-10 resume photo). Jake’s deepest love, of course, is saved for his trainer, with whom he sheds big buddy tears while bonding over the pain of family loss.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving intense sequences of fighting/violence, some sexuality, partying and language ” all involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.