Baja: "Walking away and giving up are not the same thing." Jake: "Good, because I'm not doing either." Need a minute with that one? It's the kind of cockeyed platitude that crops up throughout Never Back Down, a teen martial arts movie so inane it makes its obvious progenitor, The Karate Kid, look like something written by Confucius himself. Jake (Sean Faris) is the misfit taking beatings at his new school, Baja (Amber Heard) is the girl worth fighting for.
Never Back Down waxes on the Karate Kid plotlines but waxes off the 1980s setting in favour of a cruel summer in an ultra-contemporary, trashy Orlando. Instead of karate there's mixed martial arts or MMA complete with heavy-handed UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) branding. Broken English mentoring duty has passed from the safari-suited Mr Miyagi to the musclebound Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou). As the girl caught in the middle, the always nearly dressed Heard is like a slutty Hilary Duff, competing for screen time with an endless line-up of fake boobs in bikinis, YouTube-streaming mobile phones and flashy cars.
"TEENS WILL SPOT THE CHINKS IN THE DIALOGUE"
Aimed squarely at 12-year-old boys of all ages, there's tons of fighting and at least four (count 'em, four!) training montages, but this isn't the harmless, brainless, honest fun it appears. Never Back Down is a corrupt fable that glorifies violence in truly dishonest ways. The fighters are unmarked pretty boys who march through school corridors full of gorgeous young women who bay with a strange mixture of bloodlust and sexual excitement. Who are these pathetic women and where are the sad, sweaty brutes that really populate a sport like this? Come back Mr Miyagi, all is forgiven.
Never Back Down is out in the UK on 4th April 2008.