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Dustin Putman

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Fighting  (2009)
1 Star
Directed by Dito Montiel.
Cast: Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao, Michael Rivera, Flaco Navaja, Peter Tambakis, Luis Guzman, Anthony DeSando, Roger Guenveur Smith, Brian White.
2009 – 104 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, sexual content and brief strong language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 21, 2009.
"Fighting" is a slapdash, straight-to-the-point title that doesn't leave very much to the imagination. What it fails to tell you, though, is that the sucker-punches and leg-locks suggested by its name are only featured in three scenes, and what surrounds them is a lot of bad drama and sluggish plotting. The story, slim as a rail, is told by writer-director Dito Montiel and co-penner Robert Munic in a faux-gritty, lackadaisical style in no hurry to involve the viewer or give them a reason to care. The characters, including a protagonist whose vague history is written in clichés, are left undernourished. As for the hand-to-hand combat, let's just say that it plays like an afterthought.

Holing up in a grimy Manhattan hotel and with few professional prospects, Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) spends his days selling counterfeit goods (fake "Harry Potter" books and iPods) on the street for twenty bucks a pop. When he is ripped off by wheeler-dealer Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) and later runs into him again, Shawn promptly takes back his money. Along with the greenbacks, Harvey makes Shawn a tempting offer he can't refuse: to become a competitor in the underground street fighting circuit, the winner promised escalating cash prizes totaling tens—and eventually hundreds—of thousands. The stakes are certainly high. As makeshift agent/coach Harvey warns him, "You lose one step in this game, and everybody leaves you."

"Fighting" is a purpose-free, self-serious yawner that gives the viewer a reason to yearn for the campy fun of 2008's "Never Back Down." At least that over-the-top pic about teen-set fight clubs was, intentionally or not, good for some laughs and a few cool soundtrack cuts. "Fighting," by comparison, is just dreary, uninspired and hopelessly forgettable. The narrative, which finds Shawn competing in a few bare-knuckle fights while romancing single mother Zulay (Zulay Henao) and coming to terms with his unsavory past, remains on the same even, uninteresting wavelength throughout. The love story subplot, with Shawn and Zulay both hiding respective secrets at the onset, has a few sweet moments amidst its hokey predictability. Mostly it feels like padding. Shawn's aforementioned grappling with family troubles is treated as similar filler, not dealt with in any satisfactory capacity or leading to a payoff. Finally, because he always wins the fights, there is never a moment where he gets knocked down or faces conflict central to the story. Yes, it is as boring as it sounds.

Channing Tatum (2008's "Stop-Loss"), emitting an aw-shucks charm mixed with the occasional flighty expressions of a dumb lug, is a decidedly amiable presence. Why we should cheer his character of Shawn MacArthur on when he is depicted at the film's open as dishonest and taking advantage of those around him is a question in need of an answer, however. By remaining so sketchily developed, Tatum does not get the material needed to display his range as an actor. As scam-artist-turned-semi-mentor Harvey Boarden, Terrence Howard (2007's "Awake") continues to disappoint in his choice of projects. Why he would refuse to reprise his role in the upcoming "Iron Man" sequel, yet has no qualms about starring in "Fighting" or 2007's embarrassing "The Perfect Holiday," is sign enough that he is allowing greed to overpower the dignity he once held in his career. With the rest of the cast melding into the backgrounds, Zulay Henao is the last performer worth noting. As Shawn's love interest, Henao is blessed with naturalism and a sexy kindness—a sort of exotic Jennifer Love Hewitt.

A tale of making it (illegally) in the big city, "Fighting" is morally questionable, intellectually lacking, and cannot even offer viewers the brainless thrill of watching guys pound on each other. There is a little of the latter, but it comes and goes so quickly that no impression is made. Meanwhile, hero Shawn is shown to have no interests or future goals for himself, lucky in his talent of beating people up. Where is that going to get him in the long run? He doesn't bother thinking about it, and director Dito Montiel doesn't seem to care. "Fighting" brings absolutely nothing new to the table and expects the viewer to just eat the moldy leftovers up.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman