Fists of Silly
The first rule of Fighting is: You don’t talk about Fighting. So please just pretend you can hear me giggling derisively instead.
Oh, of course we can talk about Fighting — in fact, it’s impossible not to talk about this movie, it’s so phenomenally dumb that talking about it is the only way to get your head around how it even got made in the first place. Though I’m not sure there’s a good explanation for that at all.
It’s really quite astonishing how this subpar Rocky ripoff appears to have been improvised before the cameras by a band of earnest but not terribly bright would-be thespians. They may have had some vague idea before they started of a tale about a kid from the country who finds success as an underground bare-knuckle fighter in big bad New York City, and so they just made it up as they went along with little concern that the wild coincidences they invented along the way were preposterous, or that the melodrama they were whipping up was both phony and overblown. And that clearly were not in the least bit worried that the halting, stilted, painfully awkward nature of their dialogue — as they apparently stumbled around trying to think of things to say to one another — made it sound like they were spouting a kind of accidental, deficient poetry of disconnected non sequiturs.
Channing Tatum (Stop-Loss, Battle in Seattle) — perhaps the most mysterious excuse for a hot young thang at the moment — wanders through NYC performing petty crimes that are meant to demonstrate that he’s a Nice Guy (such as holding a subway security gate open for dozens of people to jump the fare). His Shawn MacArthur is down on his luck, of course, because there’s not a lot of money in being a Nice Guy of even the petty-criminal variety. Until he meets Terrence Howard’s (Iron Man, The Perfect Holiday) Harvey Boarden, who manages fighters on this underground fighting circuit (though he doesn’t seem to have any other fighters under his wing): Harvey has noticed that Shawn is, apart from being a Nice Guy, a violent thug with no self-control, so he’s perfect for the circuit. Though he makes an odd protagonist for a simplistic movie like this one, which cannot be bothered to turn a its own deliberate contradiction into a fully realized, complex character.
Some random testosterone gets flung around as Harvey maneuvers Shawn into his first fight, and then Shawn stalks a pretty waitress (Zulay Henao) from the bar where all the fighters and bettors and hangers-on hang out — she’s charmed by this, of course, even when it’s all about Tatum, a brick wall of nonemotion, staring blankly at her in a way that’s meant, perhaps, to be full of yearning and is completely vapid instead. The longer the movie drags itself across the screen, the more it becomes clear that the only moments of authenticity, even in a cheap cinematic way, are those of the vicious fights… which are nevertheless narratively tedious and pointless as anything other than pure exploitation.
Director Dito Montiel captures the real, raw energy of the city streets — and get the geography of New York right, too, which is a rarity onscreen. But that only makes the situation worse: how could he get that so right and everything else so entirely wrong? For this was not, of course, improvised: Montiel wrote the script with Robert Munic, and perhaps they thought their excruciatingly banal dialogue would come across as “real” or “genuine” or “honest.” (It doesn’t.) And Montiel has reduced actors we know are smart and talented, such as Howard, to mumbling incoherence, and rendered even elements that are undoubtedly actually credible — it’s easy to believe that there could be an underground fight circuit in New York City — as ridiculously implausible.
It’s hard to imagine what kind of Montiel thought he was making: dramatic? brutal? inspiring, even? But he probably wasn’t aiming for silly, which is exactly what he got.