Making the Grades
The jury may still be out on the definition of sport---especially when the sole objective is to beat your opponent to a pulp without the interference of protective gear or referees. But that likely won't deter many teens from wanting to see this flick that stars two handsome young actors and enough swimsuits to outfit an entire cruise ship.
Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) is unwittingly lured in after moving into a new school. Angry about life and his family's recent arrival in Orlando, he is provoked into a match at a weekend bash populated with bikini-wearing female eye candy, beer guzzling teens and adolescent girls involved in sexual exhibitions. His opponent is Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), the stereotypical rich kid with more cash than common sense.
After being brutally beaten, Jake is dragged back home by the shaggy-haired Max Cooperman (Evan Peters), a fellow student who is constantly shooting new material to upload on the Internet. A few days later, Max introduces Jake to Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), a former professional combatant who trains students in mixed martial arts. For a moment, it looks as though Jean might be a voice of wisdom amid the cries of "fight, fight, fight." But even this mentor fails to impart enough reason to keep Jake out of the ring.
Unfortunately, Never Back Down is an irresponsible portrayal of ruthless violence and excessive partying in a teen culture where money and expensive accessories draw a line between rich and poor. Full of flesh, fights and fiction, the script becomes little more than a promotional vehicle for mixed martial arts competitions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
While the UFC may be under pressure to enforce stricter regulations, these high school clashes don't come close to imposing any rules for combat. More like illegal cockfights, these scraps take place underneath the football bleachers at school, in upscale mansions where parents are conveniently absent or on the beach during parties. The results of these battles are often only bloody noses and a few facial lacerations, which hardly seems realistic considering the vicious nature of these encounters.
Set to a pounding musical score, these no holds barred brawls employ grappling, kicking, head butts, pummeling fists and chokeholds that sometimes result in the victim losing consciousness. The portrayal of unsanctioned violence is made worse by the swarms of taunting teens egging on the rivals.
When in reality a single punch to the head can cause death, this film glamorizes underground fight clubs without any consequences such as serious injury, fatalities or legal ramifications. Nor are parents likely to find anything entertaining about this negligent and dangerous falsehood. Rather than giving youth an alternative method to deal with their anger or teaching them to use their physical strength and skills in more positive ways, this slugfest is more reminiscent of Gladiator than Karate Kid.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Never Back Down.
“The Beat Down” is a competition meant to determine the best fighter and bring an end to the conflict between Jake and Ryan. However, what is the likelihood that this would happen? How easy is it to walk away from violence?
Jean Roqua offers a disciplined place for boys to train and develop their skills. What is the importance of mentors in the lives of teens? How can adults or peers positively influence others?
What impact might a film like this have on the popularity of fight clubs? Do you think directors or others involved in the production of movies be held accountable in any way? What methods do they use to glamorize these activities?