Bare-knuckle brawl scenes carry ‘Fighting’ only so far

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 23, 2009 4:24pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Apparently somebody forgot to update the provisional title of the new movie “Fighting,” because here it is being released to theaters. Without, you know, a real title.

Give it points for accuracy, however. “Fighting” does have its share of tooth-loosening, vertebra-crunching brawls, parceled out in the course of a fairly serious attempt at storytelling.

Our main fighter is Shawn (Channing Tatum), a tough guy from Alabama who hasn’t found his footing in the mean streets of Manhattan. Involved in a sidewalk dustup one day, he’s spotted by Harvey (Terrence Howard), a self-described “second-rate hustler.”

Harvey knows the people who know the people. Even at his low level, he can get a decent bare-knuckle fighter into some underground matches around New York.

Against all logic, there are people willing to bet large sums on such fights, and Harvey and Shawn can get their slice.

You have to figure at some point the chance to throw a fight for big money will present itself, because it almost always does in movies like this. You also have to figure the hero will be too honest or bull-headed to take the bait.

Despite the standard plot, “Fighting” isn’t stamped from a cookie cutter; the movie does have a gritty texture, and some of the supporting actors are jumpy and wild.

And Terrence Howard, that inventive actor from “Hustle &Flow” and “Iron Man,” gets to create a fine little portrait of a going-nowhere striver with a singsong voice. In a better movie, this could be a great character.

The female lead is given to Zulay Henao, who has a few nice scenes with Tatum (the rangy lead of the “Step Up” pictures), especially a comic sequence involving her meddling mother.

Director Dito Montiel, whose previous effort was the overwrought “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” is much better here at keeping his actors on the leash.

In fact, in the little moments, the movie finds some nuggets of truth. The big picture, however, has problems, especially in the behavior of Shawn, both past and present, and an overall tendency to let plot strands dangle.

The climactic plot twist made the preview audience happy, but I’m not sure I understand the logic of it. If Montiel wants to make his movies gritty and real, he’ll have to do better than that.

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