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No sensible moviegoer expects a masterpiece when buying a ticket for a film called Fighting. But writer-director Dito Montiel has followed his somewhat compelling debut, 2006’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, with a complete disaster. The first rule of fight flicks? For God’s sake, don’t be boring.
Instead of Fighting, Montiel might have called his second feature Sleepwalking, which is what Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, and Zulay Henao offer as a substitute for acting. Or Nodding Off, the urge you’ll be battling throughout the film’s 105 minutes. This is not one of those violent movies that inspires real violence—in fact, when your seatmate’s baby cries or the inevitable cell phone goes off, you might want to thank offender for breaking up the monotony.
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Tatum (Step Up) plays Shawn, a New York street vendor who sells whatever junk he can get his hands on. One day while he’s trying to unload a counterfeit Harry Potter book (“I don’t even know how you do a fake book!” he says to his deaf Asian umbrella supplier), some hustlers start strong-arming him to move off their turf and end up taking the cash that falls out of his pockets. The thugs are overlorded by a guy named Harvey (Howard), whom Shawn spots in a diner soon after—New York being such a small town—and confronts. Harvey gives Shawn his money back but also makes him an offer: He showed off some skillz during the sidewalk tussle, Harvey says, and he can help him earn some significant change fighting in an underground fisticuffs circuit.
Shawn agrees, and has a couple of battles—witnessed, hilariously and unbelievably, by wealthy crowds that include elderly white women—and stalks the woman who wanted to buy that Harry Potter fake, Zulay (Henao). See, she happens to work at the club Harvey frequents. And it’s also where one of Shawn’s old nemesis from Alabama, Evan (Brian White), likes to hang! There’s that small-world thing again.
Fighting’s fights aren’t all that exciting or brutal; Shawn tends to go unscathed during them, only to have some blood and bruises slapped on him when they’re over, which then disappear as quickly. When Zulay finally warms up to Shawn—for who knows what reason—they do a little tepid kissing before the camera cuts away. So there’s no sex and little action…and in between, lots of uninteresting conversations among really poorly acted characters. Even forgiving the cartoonish, one-note villains, Tatum is especially blank, and Howard starts off as a slick motormouth who talks until he gets what he wants—but then his Harvey just becomes annoying. The script’s big thing is that Shawn is too proud to throw a fight. Didn’t see that coming!
If Fighting can be commended for anything, it’s for its seedy depiction of New York: This isn’t Sex and the City, and you’ll feel filthy just watching the film as it follows the guys through the beaten storefronts and crowded streets of Queens. But you can swim in similar sewers in movies such as Crank: High Voltage, and even though either will make your IQ drop, at least the latter offers explosions, boobs, and bright, shiny things—and, ironically, about 100 times more fighting than the film that uses the verb as its title.