Fighting (2009)

It’s a problem when you sit through a movie and come away with absolutely nothing. Not joy, not sorrow. Not inspiration, not condemnation. After watching Fighting, I felt complete and total apathy. “Well, that sure was a movie,” I thought, before deciding that it was a waste of my time. It wasn’t bad enough to anger me, not was it good enough to be worth recommending. It played, and I watched it all, but there was nothing that’s going to stick with me tomorrow, or even a couple of hours after it ended.

From what I recall, here’s the gist of the plot. Channing Tatum — here he is playing a character who might as well be named “Channing Tatum” but in actuality is called “Shawn” — is homeless and tries to make a living selling bootleg iPods and Harry Potter books on the streets of New York, presumably because he’s not smart enough to work at the local fast food joint. After getting into a scrap with a customer, a hustler named Harvey (Terrence Howard) asks him if he wants to make a little extra money by fighting for the entertainment of rich people.

Since the first fight is worth $5,000 if he wins, Shawn accepts and is victorious. That makes him kind of a celebrity in the small social group that approves of and appreciates street fighters. He’s invited into an exclusive club — a place where he meets a former rival, Evan (Brian White), setting up our climactic, final fight — and is now rooming with his manager, as it’s better than sleeping on park benches. The next fight is worth $10,000, then $30,000, and so on.

Now, one might expect that the film would take the underdog route and have its lead have to build up to the final fight. It surprisingly side-steps that cliché, having Shawn instead as a seemingly unstoppable force. Does that make it better? Well, maybe, if you are going to appreciate that the film doesn’t go down that road. But if you’re hoping for an emotional connection, the real reason for these underdog stories in the first place, you will be disappointed.

In an attempt to build emotion, Fighting pairs Shawn with a woman named Zulay (Zulay Henao), someone struggling to make rent payments. After winning his first fight, Shawn becomes enamored with her, even though there might be some hidden motivations on her end. The problem is that the relationship progresses too quickly to be believable, and Shawn must be incredibly stupid to be willing to give a woman he just met all this money, especially when there does seem to be something devious going on.

You might have taken notice that I haven’t really delved into the actual fights. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that they’re not really the focus of the film, and that the title seems to have been chosen in an attempt to draw more potential viewers. The second is that there are only four of them, and they only last at most about four minutes total. Truth be told, after watching Fighting, the fights were the furthest thing from my mind.

Although, to be fair, they’re quite interesting and probably deserve some discussion. When the fights happen, they feel quite visceral, like the characters are actually beating each other up. They’re short, sure, but that helps with the realism, which is about the only thing that Fighting has going for it. I enjoyed the fights, and if there would have been more of them, taking away the time from the bland characters, then it’s possible that this would be a film worthy of viewing.

That’s not what happens, and instead, we get a bunch of character moments in which nothing much happens, and when it does, it doesn’t last long. Take a scene in which Shawn and Henry fight, Shawn gets kicked out of Henry’s apartment, and then goes to sit on the stairs of the building. The very next scene has them make up, having learned nothing in the exchange or growing at all as a character. This type of thing happens once more later on, and it’s irritating to see, taking away time from potentially interesting moments to stall.

You know, I don’t really mind Channing Tatum in this kind of role. He’s not really good, but since the script doesn’t give him many talking scenes, and because he can do a good job in action scenes (mostly because he looks tough), he’s absolutely right for this material. Terrence Howard actually came off as the weaker actor, but it seemed more like he didn’t care or wasn’t really being directed all that much. It’s always fun to see character actors like Luis Guzmán show up, although he, and much of the supporting cast, is underutilized.

Fighting is a nothing movie. Apart from a few very short fight scenes, there’s little to mention, little to watch for, and even less to root for. By deciding to stay away from the classic underdog story that absolutely begs to be used in these types of circumstances, Fighting fails to make any emotional connection with an audience. It has bland characters played by uninterested actors, and since it’s far more interested in attempting to be a character study, it fails by not delivering anything that is worth watching. If you can catch a montage of the fight scenes, then it might be worth watching that. But sitting through over an hour and a half of the film for about 15 minutes (if that) of fight scenes can’t be recommended.

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