Published Apr 23, 2009Fighting, which has the most self-explanatory title since Ernest Goes to Camp, is a pretty mediocre movie, but I was surprised about how it occasionally rose to the challenge of transcending its mediocrity. Chief among the film's modest pleasures is Terrence Howard as Harvey, a small-time fight manager (and sometime ticket scalper) who discovers Shawn (Channing Tatum) fighting in the streets over his bootleg Harry Potter merchandise stand. Harvey sees the potential in the rough-edged but beefcake-y kid and offers him a chance to earn big bucks in the NYC underground fight circuit.
This is the type of role that Howard could have phoned in with a standard-issue, authoritative, badass persona but instead he adopts a slightly high-pitched voice and a talkative, unrelenting speech pattern. He reminded me a bit of Johnny Depp's quirky performance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean, elevating mediocre material with the enthusiasm of his presence.
Also elevating the material is the strong sense of New York atmosphere evoked by director Dino Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints). I've become so accustomed to seeing Vancouver or Prague masquerading as NYC in B-grade action movies that it's nice to see one that not only films in its purported location but embraces the sights and sounds of its underbelly. The city is like another character in this film, pulsating and alive, sometimes threatening, particularly in the Bronx-set scenes and some of Montiel's small touches, like when Tatum boards an elevator with what appears to be a crack head in the corner.
The plot is fairly standard stuff, as we see Shawn gradually elevating his reputation until we know that it's only a matter of time until he faces off against that cocky prick who tormented him in college. I sank in my seat a little when I realized this confrontation would be framed within that tired old "will he throw the fight?" cliché. Didn't Pulp Fiction already put that plot device to bed?
Still, Fighting chugs along pleasantly enough and I was surprised to find myself actually sort of caring about the romantic subplot with Zulay Henao. Oh, and spoiler warning: the film contains fighting. (Rogue)