With a name like Fighting, a movie had better come fully equipped with the goods. That means more bare-handed, mixed martial arts than should be allowed by law. That means more broken bones, cuts, abrasions and black eyes than I care to see. Instead, Dito Montiel directed an implausible, predictable movie that comes up short on everything I had expected.
To start, there is less fighting in this than there is in a typically mundane episode of The Facts of Life (exactly). Getting past that, it turns out the story is as lame as Perez Hilton, and it has characters (the biggest exclamation point being appended to the lead roles) that are half-fleshed out and unworthy of anyone’s time. Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum), the protagonist of the film, is a half-wit con-man who is unapologetic and about as interesting as a class in basket weaving. Tatum scowls and pouts like a champion (since he sure as shit can’t fight like one), harboring some deep seated, painful memories like a weight attached to his neck. But we’re hard pressed to fully understand why he finds himself in the situation he is in and, more importantly, why we’re supposed to cheer for him.
After all, when we’re first introduced to him, he’s scamming Zulay Valez (Zulay Henao) in the streets and then himself gets hustled by a group of more experienced thieves led by Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard). Shawn gets angry and starts a fight — but isn’t he getting what is due to him? When Harvey takes him in and gets him into the underground fighting scene (where Shawn can presumably make some real money), Shawn looks a gift horse in the mouth and soon finds himself back at square one — but isn’t he getting what is due to him? And why should we care if he wins the heart of Zulay — do we want her and her daughter to travel down that dead end street?
Then there is Harvey, who, days after watching Fighting, I’m still trying to figure out. As soft spoken and low-key as he is, it is hard to imagine that he has any success at swindling people — especially with his internal desire to do good by everyone. Even during what I suppose is a pivotal scene, he maintains his ridiculously passive demeanor in the face of his own mortality (knowing how the situation arises makes it all the more unbelievable too).
But even though it all turned out to be a muddled mess, I do have to give a some acknowledgment to Dito Montiel and Robert Munic for at least trying to throw a left hook when I was thinking right cross. It is clear that the film wasn’t actually about fighting per se, but instead it is about the fight to make something more for oneself. It is a great moral to impress upon people, it just needed a heck of a lot more work to come out as intended.
Out of it all, there was one bit part that livened up Fighting and stuck in my head. It was Zulay’s grandmother Alba (Altagracia Guzman). The scene in which she is admonishing Zulay for spending time with a boy like Shawn was an absolute treat. I’ll bet Ms. Guzman has had that exact scenario play out in her home dozens of times in her 78 years.
A single standout scene, however, is hardly reason enough to watch the movie.