In 1990, Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in a film called LIONHEART. In it, he played a man hard up for money who befriends a street hustler that gets him into some underground fights. So before we even get into FIGHTING, know that we’ve seen this exact story before. The only difference this time is that the story is set in New York City and there is less kicking this time around. That’s not to say FIGHTING isn’t an improvement, because it is.
Channing Tatum is Shawn McArthur, a small town boy trying to make it in NYC. After witnessing Shawn in a random street fight, Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) gets Shawn an underground fight to make some money. The two of them ride Shawn’s success, where it eventually leads Shawn to an epic showdown with reigning champ Evan Hailey (Brian J. White).
When talking about the plot of the film, this is really a tale of two halves. In the first half of the movie, it’s a simple boy-in-the-big-city story of an Alabama kid that gets caught up in underground fighting to make some money. But halfway through, the plot gets away from itself and it turns into a series of strange coincidences that are tough for the audience to swallow. It’s almost as if director and co-writer Dito Montiel went out of his way to complicate things and create some head scratching moments.
One issue is that it just so happens that the “bad guy” in the film has a personal relationship with Shawn dating back to their days in Alabama. The script has it so the audience has to buy that Shawn and Evan meeting like this is pure coincidence. A simple fix to this problem would have been to have Shawn purposely go to NYC to become a fighter and face Evan. But as it was, their back story was a distraction that could have been used as a motivator for Shawn. I also felt a little confused as to why Shawn was even in NYC. He had no plan or purpose and until he met Harvey, he had no reason at all to be there. Again, this could have been explained if he had intended to be a fighter.
Even though the plot had some holes and the love interest was completely unnecessary, Channing Tatum was charming enough as Shawn to make the film worthwhile. Tatum has a lot of work to do as far as his acting range, but less talented actors than him have made it without range, so he shouldn’t worry. Montiel, on the other hand, could use some help with his shot selection and editing. He seemed fascinated with the close-up and I had a claustrophobic feeling throughout. It would have also been nice to see some of the fights transpire naturally rather than bounce from close-up to close-up.
The film is called FIGHTING and of course, there’s plenty of fights to keep audiences entertained. Each fight served the purpose of getting Shawn closer to Evan, but due to some poor direction and editing, the fights weren’t as intense as they should have been. I was never concerned that our hero wouldn’t win and it would have been a nice curveball to have him lose in the middle or at least make it close. Oh, and don’t fighters train at all, or is that just in the ROCKY movies?