A surprisingly vivid straight-to-dvd fight flick that betters the original while maintaining the same sense of energy and realism. Michael Jai White’s directorial debut is a cut above the norm for the genre while giving fans exactly what they have come to expect. Working from a script by writer Chris Hauty, the story focuses on the lives of four different fighters from various backgrounds that overcome personal problems en route to an underground MMA tournament known simply as ‘the beatdown’. While maintaining the same melancholy tone that hovered around the characters in the original, this entry tells a far more compelling story.
Admittedly story arcs aren’t what fight fans are usually looking for in an MMA inspired film. As a reviewer I grow tired of endless badly choreographed and edited fight sequences filmed in the factories of Romania. When a movie aspires to tell a story with characters that even remotely resemble human beings with realistic emotional dilemmas I’m all for it, even if said film’s subtitle is The Beatdown. Michael Jai White (Universal Solider: The Return, Black Dynamite) has been an underrated performer his entire career. A man able to deliver Shakespearian rhetoric while blessed and cursed with the physique of an Adonis that pigeonholed him to a career in action films. Every so often White will get a chance to shine when Tyler Perry cast him in a film, but for the most part he has been relegated to co-starring as the heavy in Van Damme and Seagal flicks.
Story-wise the film does a nice job of clearly setting up its characters, we meet Tim the oversized hardworking lug whose mom has to work nights cock-tailing in a strip-club to pay rent. There’s Zach, a former boxer forced into early retirement because of a detached retina suffered in a severe beating; now looking for one last shot at glory. Justin is a comic store clerk who joins the fight-club after surviving a knifing in a vicious attack by three assailants. And finally there’s Mike, the college freshman recently kicked off the wrestling squad for cracking a guy who made a reference to Mike’s gay father. Yes, there is a message about homosexual tolerance in a film that features arm bars and choke-outs. There is also talk about the effects of Hurricane Katrina and the displacement of refugees as well as police profiling and prejudices.
Never Back Down 2 is ultimately a fight flick. The final twenty minutes or so are essentially one long nicely choreographed tournament round-robin. Its shot well and edited in a style in which the audience can recognize the techniques being preformed. On that base level the film is an adequate martial arts programmer, but it’s the one two punch of Michael Jai White’s presence in-front and behind the camera along with an intriguing script that really delivers the knockout blow. I enjoyed this movie far more than I imagined when seeing early promotional material.
Director: Michael Jai White
Stars: Michael Jai White, Scott Epstein, Dean Geyer, Jillian Murray