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Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fighting - C

Rated PG-13 for intense fight sequences, a sex scene and brief strong language, 105 minutes

Best thing about the "Rocky" rip-off "Fighting" is - no surprise - the fighting

The best thing about the crowd-pleasing new movie Fighting is well, the fighting, though its story lacks punch. Starring hunk-of-the-moment Channing Tatum in a scrappy Rocky-rip off , the script is clichéd, sloppy and unrevealing, but Fighting is entertaining enough to please those looking for some bloody, bare-fisted (and for the ladies, bare-chested) action. It also helps that the shallowly handsome Tatum is paired with a decent actor (Terrence Howard) and an even prettier young newcomer (Zulay Valez).

Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Tatum) has come to New York City with nothing. Hardly earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Howard) sees his natural talent for streetfighting, and the two form an unusual partnership with Harvey’s promises of cold, hard cash.

As Shawn's manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns like Shawn desiring a quick buck. Shawn becomes a star brawler overnight, taking on far more experienced fighters in a series of increasingly intense bouts. But Shawn’s unstable past, his connection with pro fighter Evan Hailey (Brian White) and his newfound love for the near-destitute Zulay (Valez) propel him to lay it all on the line for the fight of his life.

Fighting is an enjoyably forgettable entry in the scrappy-underdog- sports story with a few nicely staged, raw fight scenes set among a soggy, powerless story. It treads familiar ground and has been covered many, many times over the years, from Rocky to The Karate Kid (and their many sequels) and Fighting adds nothing new to the genre. Director and co-writer Dito Montiel, who wrote and directed Tatum in the affecting 2006 independent feature A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, is far less effective at telling his story here. His sloppy script - clumsy clichés, lack of backstory and cardboard characters among them – we know as little about Tatum’s character at the end of the movie as we did in the beginning - is the film’s chief flaw and saps the movie of much-needed power.

In addition, Fighting shows that the boyishly handsome Tatum (who, ironically, plays Pretty Boy Floyd in the upcoming Johnny Depp movie Public Enemies) isn’t quite ready to carry a movie. His shallow charm worked well in the dance flick Step Up, but he’s yet to demonstrate a true maturity as an actor, that is in developing a real character. It doesn’t help that his love scenes with the beautiful Valez are awkwardly handled, falling flat when relying on Tatum to reveal some key character points. Montiel seemingly wants these scenes to have a Rocky-Adrian vibe though it comes nowhere close to that (mainly because a Spanish-speaking Abuela walks in and literally steals these scenes).

Fortunately, Tatum is paired with Howard (of Iron Man) in Fighting, who can snatch a moment away from our lead in a second with a few words of dialogue (“What, you lonely now? You need a friend?” he says walking away) and establish emotional connection to a character with minimal dialogue and a few glances. His is the Mickey character from Rocky, except with a better fate (i.e. he lives).

As you might expect, Fighting’s better moments are the handful of expertly choreographed fight sequences that become increasingly intense as the movie goes on. The movie’s energy level is raised considerably with these scenes, providing Fighting’s more memorable moments, though by the time it reaches its predictable (and really, anti-climactic) climax, you know exactly where it’s going. And if you’ve never learned anything about those Rocky or Karate Kid movies, never bet on the underdog (in this case - literally - do not bet on the underdog).

By the time our characters drive off in the sunset, you won’t remember much about Fighting, which may be telling of its chances at the box-office. By the time Wolverine or Star Trek reach blockbuster status, Fighting will be down for the count and ready for DVD release, where its viewing seems better suited.

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