Never Back Down keeps coming at you with its platitudes, somewhere between The Karate Kid and Fight Club for the YouTube generation.
This contrived melodrama hardly beats its rap for the action-packed milieu of Mixed Martial Arts with high schoolers set on underground combat zones.
Jeff Wadlow's topically teen friendly foray centers on Jake Tyler (Sean Faris of Yours, Mine, and Ours), an Iowa football star who goes ballistic during a game. Someone catches the kid in action and before you know it his reputation on-line is there for the taking.
His mother (Leslie Hope) sees a change for the family with Jake's younger brother on a tennis scholarship in Orlando. Jake's troubled past comes from the guilt felt from the death of his father.
But, Jake isn't partaking in something like Disney World; this tale soon has him brawling in a blood sport that is more art form than street fighting. He gets whipped by the local cocky rich-kid champ in Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet).
Anger management becomes vital to Jake's learning curve, and his gym-owning sensei Jean Roqua (salt and pepper goateed Djimon Hounsou of Blood Diamond) can show him how to succeed without becoming a bully like Ryan.
Having a grip on one's emotions and breathing when delivering a blow ultimately becomes a rite of passage for our hero who has those training montages with the physically stalwart Hounsou (Jean has his own troubled past that mirrors Jake's). It all leads to the climactic beatdown that will "not just settle a score, but define who Jake is".
Wadlow considers the outsider in Jake as more than being hot-headed and quick-tempered. The new kid in town has an interest in coquettish Baja (Amber Heard of Alpha Dog), who happens to be Ryan's former girlfriend. Putting on his gloves leads to a moment explained as wrestling to Jake's younger brother.
Never Back Down might be a guilty pleasure for some, but doesn't rise to the occasion like an 8 Mile or The Fast and the Furious. Girls will like someone as handsome as Jake (Faris has the resemblance of a Risky Business Tom Cruise) and guys will like bone-crushing as shown in the "x-ray" instances. But, it smashes its way into nothing more.