I watched “Never Back Down” on Blu-Ray last night, a perfect example of a film that can’t be saved by making it in a visually superior format. I characterize this one as “The Karate Kid on Steroids”, because it’s the Karate Kid story right down to the family move, the long suffering mom who just doesn’t get it, the girlfriend who is initially in the enemy camp, and the superbad naughty boys led by a narcissistic bully who initially cleans our hero’s clock… we even have a 21st century Mr. Miagi in the form of a perpetually sweating black dude who teaches mixed martial arts and spews homespun wisdom like, “never back down” in a warehouse “on the bad side of town”.
I’ll call the hero “Nick” because it’s been several hours since I endured the movie and I’ve already forgotten his name. Anyway, Nick comes from Iowa…. or was it Idaho? One produces potatoes and the other produces teenagers with potato-like intellects. In the opener, Nick is knee deep in a football game staged during a storm that would have kept Noah himself under a tarp. He has the audacity to continually tackle the quarterback on the other team whenever that guy catches the football. The game announcer keeps trumpeting that, “Number 44 has scored yet another tackle,” bringing cheers from Nick’s admirers and groans from his detractors on the other, even wetter, set of bleachers.
Now, I’m no football strategist, but it would seem to me that if you’re going to always throw the ball to the same player, it’s a good bet that sooner or later the other team is going to figure out your plan. But this is Idaho. Or Iowa. Anyway, it keeps happening. It’s like watching the same instant replay over and over again. Quarterback catches the ball, Nick rushes in and tackles him. If I were the opposing coach I’d tell my team to keep an eye on Nick, but that’s just me.
Not surprisingly, every time the quarterback gets his face plowed into the mud, he becomes increasingly cranky and eventually, in a hissy fit, butts his shoulder pads against Nick as a direct challenge. Good natured Nick, though, having the intellectual depth of a tuber (see “potato” above) doesn’t recognize the water logged pad swatting as a provocation and walks away. Until that is, the dastardly quarterback shouts the devastating catch phrase, “too bad about your dad“.
(backstory: Nick’s dad was a drunk and died in a car crash). Well…… if you’ve seen “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” you know that this is the equivalent of uttering, “cleaning woman” to Steve Martin. Camera cuts to Nick…. shoulders stiffen….fists clench…. slowly I turn, inch by inch….. Nick flings his helmet to the ground and charges the quarterback unleashing a flurry of punches that quickly has the hapless ball jockey’s face plowed into the mud again. Is there no justice?
As luck would have it, this inconsequential battering is caught on camera and instantly takes on a life of its own on Youtube. When Nick and family move to Florida the next day, Nick’s fame has followed him via the Internet and he can’t walk down the hall at his new school without nubile teenage girls throwing their panties at him. This incenses the Karate Bully (can’t remember his name either, so I’ll call him KB) who apparently only sees panties when his mom does her laundry. He invites Nick over to his palatial rich guy house ostensibly to attend a party, but actually to beat the bejeebers out of him in front of all the girls. (They can’t throw their panties at anyone because they’re now all wearing bikinis). This humiliating action is also caught on camera and immediately becomes more famous on the internet than Britney Spears’ cooter.
The next day, Nick limps over to a dingy warehouse and hauls himself up on the loading dock to meet Chocolate Miagi (no, damn it.. I don’t remember his name, either!) who impresses Nick with his copius sweating and pearls of wisdom (“an open hand can become a fist”). Now, understand that Chocolate Miagi never, ever lets newbies into his advanced class. We know this because he says so. Nick, though, puts on his especially intense face and impresses CM with his intensity. Oh, and Nick also informs CM that he’s “a fast learner”.
Well, this is all CM needed to hear and before you can say “Yo, Adrian” Nick is getting the snot kicked of him by guys half his size. This causes momentary despair on the part of Nick, who has never kissed the canvas before, so CM has him climb really long ropes. As Nick clings to one of the ropes looking intense, but despairing, Chocolate Miaga wipes a quart of sweat from his upturned face and bellows, “don’t quit!” And Nick doesn’t! (the writers really know how to build suspense in this epic.)
By this time the Cute Girl (don’t ask!) has switched her allegiance to Nick presumably because his mangled face reminds her of a bloody rib roast she once saw at Safeway. In a tender moment Nick spills the beans that he is going to attend the Big Mixed Martial Arts extravaganza (we’ll call that the BM) Cute Girl purses her pouty lips and promises to stay by his side no matter what happens.
The day of the BM arrives and we are treated to the obligatory spate of early matches between tattooed young men with washboard abs and bad attitude. A surprising number of them sport Mohawk hair do’s, and here’s a clue: the Mohawks always lose. Just something to watch for if you see the movie. To everyone’s surprise, both Nick and KB vanquish all comers (could the match possibly come down to just those two??) But not before Nick sustains a number of kicks to his ribs making them really, really sore. How sore? Well remember Daniel in the Karate Kid and how his leg got stomped in the big match up and he was mincing around like a ballerina with bunions?
And then in an incredible plot twist, KB cheats by unnecessarily gouging an opponent’s eye socket, apparently underestimating the referees who, seeing the guy’s eye dangling like a bloody Christmas ornament, put their heads together and decide that KB must be disqualified. Nick, of course, is privy to none of this having retreated to the sequestered ice machine to treat his agonizing injuries. We know he’s in agony because he scrunches up his face looking really intense but in a painful kind of way.
Okay, here he goes out on the mat, and the Ref yells, “fight”! And Nick sees that his opponent has a Mohawk and therefore can’t be KB, because there’s KB smirking at him from among a crowd of admirers. Well, this won’t do at all. Nick leans down and slaps the mat which in Mixed Martial Arts means, “I’m not going to fight a guy in a Mohawk who’s gonna lose no matter what” Harruuumph!
Nick storms out of the building followed by KB who has finished eye gouging for the day. KB challenges the retreating Nick who absolutely will not be taunted into participating in an unsanctioned bout, even though we can see that the girls in the crowd are itching to fling their panties at someone. Nick gives us that same tolerant, accepting face we saw at the football game so long ago (78 minutes) and takes the high ground, striding away. But KB is nothing if not persistent. “Too bad about your Cleaning Woman??!!” Slowly I turn…. inch by inch… Before you can say, “bring it on”, the apex of the plot line has arrived and Nick is in the fight of his life.
Meanwhile, the entire crowd has deserted the boring fight in the stadium (did I mention that one of the fighters has a Mohawk?) and all eyes (those yet ungouged) are on our inevitable pugilists.
To everyone’s surprise, KB discovers that Nick has a boo-boo and attacks that set of ribs like a fat chick in a pie eating contest. Nick puts up a valiant struggle but gets knocked to the ground and stomped by a gleeful KB who raises his arms in a victory salute to the crowd. Meanwhile poor Nick is having flashbacks which unfortunately, we have to endure right along with him. There he is kicking ass at the football game. There he is being tender with his mom who just doens’t understand his violent outbursts. There he is with the Cute Girl, chastely pressing his lips to hers. And hey…. there’s Chocolate Miagi, bathed in sweat, exhorting our boy to “never quit…. NEVER BACK DOWN”. Nick, beaten like a red headed stepchild, staggers to his feet to the cheers of the onlookers (a couple of the girls’ hands are inching under their skirts). KB manages to look resigned and yet anxious (maybe he’s seen The Karate Kid) and moves in for the kill. In glorious slow motion Nick delivers a series of kicks and punches that, in close up, have KB’s face flapping like a bowl of Jello on a paint mixing machine as the sweat flies off his face (he hasn’t sweated until this scene) into the multitude of camera lenses imortalizing this event for Youtube. Nick’s final kick sends KB rocketing back as if a stunt man had taken his place and been yanked by rubber bands. Oh, the humanity!
Nick has now proven that he can kick ass in All Kinds of Weather, and you just know that somewhere, Chocolate Miagi is sweating in his warehouse dojo, anxiously awaiting “Never Back Down II”.