The Mixed Martial Arts Kid
After snapping and punching an opponents lights out during a football game Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) finds himself at a new school where thanks to Youtube his reputation for having a short fuse and a killer right hook precedes him. But as such he comes to the attention of Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet) who runs an underground fight scene at the school and who uses his girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard) to lure Jake to a party where he taunts him in to fighting him by mentioning Jake's father who died when he was driving drunk. After getting beaten senseless Jake and his new friend Max (Evan Peters) head to a gym where Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou) agrees to train him in mixed martial arts.
I never realised that before they remade "The Karate Kid" with Jaden Smith they had already done it when they made "Never Back Down". Now in fairness I had never even heard of "Never Back Down" before coming across it recently and when I read one less than positive review I debated whether to watch it but hey it's a movie and I don't need that much persuading. Anyway what I watched was the equivalent of an update on "The Karate Kid" with a mixed martial arts feel to the action but combined with some of the styling of a modern dance movie.
What does that mean? Well "The Karate Kid" part is obvious with Jake being the new kid in school who gets singled out by a bully and who ends up getting fighting lessons. But where once it was karate which was the fighting style we have more of a UFC/ Mixed Martial arts style where anything goes. Also there is no mystical Mr. Miyagi but a tough as nails but very wise Roqua who teaches Jake the secrets of fighting which include breathing and respect. But on top of this is a visual style which has that heavy soundtrack which wouldn't be out of place in a dance movie especially with the choreographed fight and training scenes.
Now whilst this doesn't do a great deal for me I can see how it would appeal to a younger audience with the mixed martial arts but also an appealing looking cast. Sean Faris has more than a touch of a young Tom Cruise about him with that smile and sense of cockiness. And then there is Amber Heard as a love interest and she has the hot visual appeal which will work for a young audience. Plus there is even a sidekick to bring some comedy relief in the shape of Evan Peters but none of these characters have any real depth and it is more a case of they deliver the intended visual appeal.
What this all boils down to is that "Never Back Down" understandably has an audience as it takes the familiar "The Karate Kid" underdog concept and switches it around for a contemporary audience. But it does mean that whilst watching it you feel like you have seen it all before.