High school sure has changed a lot over the years. Now it is more than simply being the king of the football field or the basketball court. These days it is all about how well you can fight in underground MMA brawls, so the entire school can whip out their cell phones and gawk at the winner on YouTube.
Or, that’s what Never Back Down wants you to believe.
This is an impossibly stupid movie, one where the characters apparently suffer from a brain condition that prevents them from thinking. Take Jake Tyler (Sean Faris). He has moved to Florida, and is instantly a star at his new school. All of the kids watch his prior fight on their iPhones, because they’re all model material and rich. No ugly or poor kids attend this school.
The message this movie wants to deliver is that if you fight, you become popular at school, get the girl, and get to attend all of the hot parties. How glorious that must be.
The film follows the same story as Karate Kid, without any of the same lessons, tradition, or intelligence. All Never Back Down teaches is fighting, and that’s never even regulated. It is ugly and underground, with hardly any rules to note. These are kids, high school kids that, tossed into a ring surrounded by equally young spectators to fight.
None of the adults have the common sense to stop this, and while the actors are close to 30, they are supposed to be in high school which makes this a sick display of human idiocy. When Jake’s friend (Evan Peters) is brutally beaten, no one thinks to call the authorities on the psychopathic nut job responsible. Instead, the movie tries to make a message about how revenge in an underground fight club is okay in this situation.
This is all a set up for admittedly well choreographed fights, even if the end result misses the mark in terms of meaning and purpose. MMA fans, at least true MMA fans, will cringe at how barbaric the sport is portrayed instead of the well-controlled back-and-forth fights inside a professional ring. This is hardly what the public needs to have faith in the sport.
In the end, everyone seems happy. The villain has made up with the supposed hero in an illogical, baffling twist, the mother is happy her son fights in underground brawls, and Jake gets the girl. Hooray for human decency.
Summit Entertainment delivers a sparkling AVC encode, capturing immense levels of detail. Djimon Honsou has one of the most textured faces in Hollywood, and this disc beautifully captures every pore, bead of sweat, and imperfection. Sharpness is high throughout, with few drops.
Black levels are typically rich and deep, although black crush can be a problem. As Jake walks into a party around the 17-minute mark, the black levels take over the frame. Noise is an irregular problem, but creeps into the picture more often than it should, creating a minor distraction. Color is well saturated, with accurate flesh tones. Contrast is nicely controlled without blooming problems.
Any of the crowd sequences in the film provide a rousing, full audio punch. This is a clean, crisp DTS-HD mix, capturing a solid “thud” with every thrown punch in the low end. The opening football game is spectacular, with the crowd cheering in all available channels, rain pouring throughout the sound field, and deep subwoofer shots when players collide.
A rather obnoxious, varied soundtrack bleeds into all channels while throbbing on the low end mixes well. Dialogue is well centered and audible throughout despite other noise.
Never Back Down’s extras kick off with a commentary from director Jeff Wadlow, writer Chris Hauty, and actor Sean Faris. Wadlow follows that with an introduction to 11 deleted scenes that run just over 13 minutes. Mix It Up is a general making of featurette.
Blow by Blow runs over an hour, and acts as a second commentary as the fight choreography is dissected. The speakers pause and rewind the footage to analyze every possible movement. Another fight feature lets you view them from various angles and in different states of completion. A promo reel is a very early, poorly acted preview announcing the beginning of filming.