The simplicity of a moneymaker is a dreadful yet beautiful thing. Sometimes it floods the theaters with trash simply created to make a buck, but once in a while, you get a generally good film you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy. All writer/director Dito Montiel had to do was follow the step-by-step formula for making an entertaining sports film and Fighting would have been exactly what you expected and hoped it would be. Instead, Montiel lets his creative side get the better of him, and his good intentions turn what should have been an action-packed film about guys kicking the crap out of each other into a juvenile drama.
Channing Tatum stars as Shawn McArthur, a street hustler having a hard time selling fake Harry Potter books and cheap umbrellas on the streets of New York City. When Shawn infringes upon Harvey Boarden’s (Terrance Howard) ticket-scalping territory, a fight ensues and Harvey gets a glimpse at Shawn’s potential, not as a hustler but as a fighter. Harvey uses his connections in the underground street-fighting world to book Shawn a series of fights so he can make a name for himself while pulling in some prize money.
Now that we’ve got the basics in order, cue the love interest and the archrival. Zulay (Zulay Henao) is a single mother working as a waitress at a nightclub frequented by fighters and their posses. At first Zulay is wary of Shawn, but he wins her over with the help of a stuffed pink bunny. Now all Shawn has to worry about is gaining the affection of Zulay’s scene-stealing, overprotective grandmother, and she doesn’t make it easy. Evan Haley (Brian J. White) is Shawn’s college adversary who happens to have conveniently risen to the top of the fighting food chain.
Montiel has every piece necessary for creating a successful sports movie; too bad he wants to make a drama. As a result, we get a cast of caricatures rather than characters. Tatum excels at playing a brooding, ripped fighter, but falters when the part requires anything more. He tries to summon the hint of talent we saw from him in Stop-Loss but instead just seems confused. Then there’s Howard’s performance as Harvey. Montiel couldn’t have made it more obvious that he wants Harvey’s personality to contradict the harshness of the underground fighting scene, allowing Howard to make Harvey boring rather than just low key.
Nothing in Fighting is convincing. You’re brought right to the brink of compassion and then left hanging and staring into space. While Harvey is just plain-old annoying, you’ll find yourself blaming the film’s lack of action on Shawn, making him just as unlikeable. There is so little fighting in Fighting, and the scenes that do highlight a spar are rushed. The fight choreography is impressive, but the melees are short and end so abruptly that your heart will still be racing well into the melodramatic portions of the film.
Montiel butchers a by-the-book sports film and turns in a muddled mess. When you call a movie Fighting, audiences are probably going to expect some action. When you put Channing Tatum in a film and only show shirtless sequences of him in the trailer, audiences will expect to see a lot of half-naked Tatum. Sorry fighting and Channing Tatum fanatics; you won’t get either. Fighting takes you on a ride of highs and lows and will leave you questioning exactly what Montiel is trying to accomplish with this depthless film.
The disappointment continues with Fighting’s special-features selection. The DVD comes with both the theatrical and unrated version of the film, which merely equates to three extra minutes of material.
Then there’s a little over eight minutes of deleted scenes. You’ll be thankful Montiel spared you these extra eight minutes in the final cut of the film, because they’re all as meaningless as the film itself. The first two scenes are completely insignificant, but the third actually has some depth and could have helped paint a clearer picture of Shawn’s past and his relationship with Harvey. The fourth may be just as irrelevant as the first two, but you’ll love watching it because it features the best part of the film: Altagracia Guzman as Zulay’s hilarious grandmother. The montage raps up with another scene removed from the film for obvious reasons.
It’s really a shame more effort wasn’t put into creating bonus material. A featurette about revving up for the fighting scenes could have been a great way to pay homage to the action fanatics hoping to see more punches than were delivered.