Director : Dito Montiel
Screenplay : Robert Munic and Dito Montiel
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Channing Tatum (Shawn MacArthur), Terrence Howard (Harvey Boarden), Zulay Henao (Zulay Valez), Michael Rivera (Ajax), Flaco Navaja (Ray Ray), Peter Tambakis (Z), Luis Guzmán (Martinez), Anthony DeSando (Christopher Anthony), Roger Guenveur Smith (Jack Dancing), Brian White (Evan Hailey), Ivan Martin (Stockbroker Jerry)
Pretty much everything you need to know about this by-the-numbers clunker is summarized in the one-word title Fighting. Yes, there is plenty of fighting of the underground, bare-knuckle-brawl variety, but because the film was cowritten and directed by Dito Montiel, whose feature debut was 2006’s hard-scrabble autobiographical A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, you can rest assured that the fighting is also internal and metaphorical, neatly and simply describing the struggles facing the film’s down-on-their-luck characters. About the only thing the film really gets right is its street-level depiction of the dark side of New York City, which gives you both seedy grit and high-class depravity without slipping into caricature or exploitation.
Channing Tatum (Step It Up, Stop-Loss) brings his brooding intensity and frat-boyish good looks to the role of Shawn MacArthur, a young man who is trying to make a living selling iPods and Harry Potter knock-offs on the street corner. His ability to fight is recognized by Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard), a soft-spoken, two-bit hustler who clearly knows his way around the streets, but is really not much better off in life than Shawn (can anyone not see the intertwining roads of redemption here?). Howard is always an interesting actor, and he plays Harvey with Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo inflections, but without all the squalor. He takes Shawn under his wing, promising him big bucks for participating in underground brawls, but he also displays a sensitivity and gentleness in allowing his protégé to crash at his apartment.
Because the film follows formula to the T, there has to be a romantic subplot, which is filled out by a club waitress named Zulay (Zulay Valez), who catches Shawn’s eye and drives him to admittedly “stalker-ish” behavior to win a date. Zulay is coy and Shawn is smitten, but it’s all just a sideshow to the rise-to-the-top narrative arc that promises Shawn’s redemption, albeit possibly at Harvey’s expense. The film’s real problem is that redemptive narrative works only when we care about the characters whose lives are at stake, and Montiel and cowriter Robert Munic never manage to elevate their characters beyond obvious types or put them into situations that feel in any way genuine or surprising (every plot development, including a last-minute “twist,” is as predictable as the hip-hop music used to punctuate every scene transition). Shawn is clearly intended to be a mysterious hunk, and when his backstory is finally explained, it is more of a letdown than a source of insight, and he remains just as generic as before. His rivalry with an old schoolmate from Alabama is more preposterous than compelling, which makes their climactic bout (which Shawn is supposed to throw) little more than yet another exercise of going through the motions.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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