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Never Back Down /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Sean Faris, Cam Gigandet, Amber Heard, Djimon Honsou, Evan Peters

Directed by: Jeff Wadlow

Produced by: Craig Baumgarten, David Zelon

Written by: Chris Hauty
Distributor: Summit Entertainment

     Oh, how all the far-left critics will be crying out about how Never Back Down is an immoral picture that celebrates the violence of revenge! (These, of course, are the same folks who said that Kill Bill was a-Okay for the kiddies to watch because it was too “unrealistic” for them to take seriously.) Indeed, Never Back Down is a movie that ultimately justifies the “eye-for-an-eye” philosophy. Unlike my fellow reviewers, however, I don’t have any gripes with this. The real problem with the movie —the one that everybody seems to be ignoring—is that it indulges in exactly what it preaches against: the very senseless violence that causes its protagonist to seek revenge. Never Back Down is a motion picture of the utmost degree of hypocrisy; it decries the blood and bruises shed in its story’s many underground-fight sequences, but turns a blind eye when these are positively glamorized by the flashy visuals implemented by director Jeff Wadlow.

     I hate to be the guy lecturing about morals and ethics in film—is it really my place as one who merely wants to enjoy the pictures he sees?—but the task seems an obligatory one here. Never Back Down seems innocent enough at first glance, indulging in same politics of high school-drama as most other teen-targeted fare. In this very benign state, however, the movie plays mind-tricks on viewers who turn their brains off for its 110-minute duration. Part of the danger of Never Back Down is that it rarely ever appears to be coming off as a message-movie, and yet it (consciously or unconsciously) vocalizes a rather militant agenda. Sure, the movie’s main character, Jake Tyler (Sean Faris), may just want to beat up his high school’s token asshole, Cam (Ryan McCarthy), in order to gain the right to steal Cam’s über-hot girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard). But it takes a lot of punches for Jake to get to his ultimate destination. Even though he is learning the principles of non-violence from mixed-martial-arts trainer Jean Roqua (Djimon Honsou) along the way, the movie never reflects this. Jake may never intend to harm anybody on his path to revenge, but the viewer certainly sees him inflicting both physical and emotional pain on countless others.

     As citizens of a movie-going society, we must realize that something is wrong when a studio wants us to watch a movie for its violence. As much I realize that this statement is rife for misinterpretation, I also know that it needs to be said. (In other words, just because Chigurh killed people with an air-gun in No Country for Old Men and Buffalo Bill skinned women in The Silence of the Lambs doesn’t mean we watch those films to revel in their violent qualities.) No matter what sense of morality Never Back Down may think it holds, the movie bombards its viewers with shot after shot of violent imagery, practically asking them to scream “That’s so cool!” after any character, good or bad, lands a punch. (Oh, and did I mention that it somehow managed to earn a PG-13 rating?) Realizing this, maybe the politically-correct, non-violent left-wingers of the world are right in this particular instance. Could writer Chris Hauty and director Wadlow possibly have accomplished what I wished they had done by depicting all violence other than that of the film’s final showdown as having a negative effect? Perhaps it’s just too hard to restrain such an urge in Hollywood. For this reason, Never Back Down is a film that’s worth boycotting. And because Sean Faris can’t act his way out of a paper-bag. Can’t forget that.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.20.2008

Screened on: 3.18.2008 at the Krikorian Vista Village Metroplex 15 in Vista, CA.


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