Fighting, you'd think you'd be in for a rock 'em-sock 'em exercise in big-screen brawling with little on its brain other than four-knuckled fist-to-face action. However, what lies at the heart of this picture is far from the simple affair that the title would make it seem to be. If anything, this straight-from-the-streets tale should be called "Talking" -- or better yet, "Yawning." Packing a dramatic punch rather than a violent one, Fighting is a chameleon flick -- one that's been sold in one way, while at the same time harboring a secret dramatic streak with very few surprises up its sleeve. In fact, there's nothing in Fighting that viewers have not seen before, which would be acceptable if it lived up to its simplistic title -- but it doesn't. Instead, this low-key production leans on its tepid dramatic muscle, which is too bad, given its better-than-average cast.
Channing Tatum stars as Shawn MacArthur, a street merchant who gets discovered by a hustler by the name of Harvey (Terrence Howard) after he trades fisticuffs with an assailant on the streets of New York City. Noticing his promise as a fighter, Harvey introduces Shawn to the world of underground street fighting, where riches await fighters as long as they win. Along the way, Shawn falls for Zulay, a waitress just scraping by in the big city, who gives the wayward white boy a reason to keep on raking in the dough. As fate would have it, the young brawler's path soon crosses that of high school wrestling rival Evan Hailey (Brian J. White), now a high-rolling, successful fighter with a chip on his shoulder. With everything to lose, the two brutes prepare to settle the score the only way that they know how -- in a final confrontation where the stakes are high and only one can be crowned the victor.
It's not as if Fighting is terrible. The acting is well done, as is the unique look at the underbelly of the Big Apple. In fact, for a second, it seems as if director Dito Montiel is looking to take the viewer into the fascinating criminal machinations of the streets rather than settle for formulaic dramatics. When each fight begins to echo the different boroughs of the city, things really start getting interesting -- but as soon as the picture gets cooking, it loses its steam and turns the spotlight on the rather bland lead character. Once audiences learn of Shawn's inner demon, the picture loses its steam. Suddenly, the plot is creating conflict from forced character connections rather than the fights themselves. By the time the third act neatly ties everything together, the audience's interest is already long lost. It's possible that Fighting will be slighted because of what it isn't rather than what it is, which would be an unfair critique if not for the final product feeling more like a pulled punch rather than a TKO. leave a comment --Jeremy Wheeler