Never Back Down is Warrior’s coked out brother who’s addicted to Monster Energy and Tapout shirts.
AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE:
I remember watching this during the summer before my freshman year of high school and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The music slapped, the characters were cool, and the action was tough! I had no interest in sports, but any film that dealt with boxing or martial arts always caught my attention and Never Back Down was no exception. It was also my introduction to Amber Heard who was an absolute babe in this movie; I’d always had a thing for blondes so of course she’d be what stood out to me. Say what you will about Sean Faris’ performance as Jake Tyler, but the supporting cast are actually compelling in a way that Faris isn’t.
Never Back Down is a movie made for impressionable teenage boys. The editing is hyperactive, the characters save for Jake Tyler are boisterous, and the soundtrack is so in your face that it could only ever appeal to rowdy kids who love X-Box and energy drinks. I caught this on cable with a friend of mine when I first saw it which probably contributed to the experience. Watching this on cable meant you could leave it on in the background while doing other things. It was the most romanticized look into high school where everyone was hot and you could resolve your issues with a good ol’ bout of fisticuffs. Over the years, I’d always come back to this movie for mindless entertainment, but for this recent rewatch, I wanted to really see if this was actually entertaining or if I just had bad taste.
BUT NOW, I’M LIKE:
This is bad, really bad! Every character in this movie is an asshole to varying degrees with Cam Gigandet’s Ryan being the biggest one. The second asshole in the “Asshole Ranking” is Sean Faris’ Jake Tyler who’s angry all the time and never goes through a believable transformation. There’s a way to make a character like this work, but it has to start with giving him some sort of personality and likability, but there’s no work done to fully flesh him out as a character. Once we get to the final beatdown, there’s no tension because everything prior lacked any sort of emotional resonance. It also doesn’t help that the action looks really ugly with constant cuts that never allow us to see the stunts being performed. All that being said, I have no guilt in saying I still enjoy this movie!
I’ve mentioned Cam Gigandet being an asshole in the previous paragraph, but I think that’s one of the film’s best aspects. Gigandet relishes in this role and he makes for a believable bad guy; he’s more charismatic than the lead, that’s for sure. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Gigandet gives me Brad Pitt vibes and he’s essentially playing Tyler Durden if Tyler Durden were the rich kid in high school who wanted everyone to know he was in Fight Club. Cam Gigandet isn’t the only good performance here, but we’ve also got Evan Peters before he broke out with American Horror Story and X-Men! Evan Peters plays Max Cooperman who seems to be the only one who knows how stupid this movie is. He’s the one with the most charisma and anytime he’s not onscreen, you really wish he were. Even with material as subpar as this, Peters makes the most of it and it’s obvious why he became such a major star.
IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE:
Never Back Down is most certainly not for everyone and it is objectively a bad movie, but I just can’t keep myself from outright hating it. The fights are terribly shot, most performances are subpar, and every character is in some form or another an asshole, but there’s nothing quite like films from the early aughts where every film had an orange tint and the soundtracks were full of nu metal. The summer of 2009 was the year that made the biggest impression on me as far as action movies go. I saw Commando, I saw The Predator, and I saw Never Back Down and while I’ve seen better, my love for action films wouldn’t be where it is today without Never Back Down to show me the path.