"A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do"
NEVER BACK DOWN is an entertaining popcorn movie that delves a little deeper than usual into its stereotypes and formulas, despite a predictable ending.
Sean Faris stars as Jake Tyler, a high school senior in Iowa who’s still angry at himself for letting his late father drive a car when he was drunk. In fact, he’s gotten into several fights that have gotten him into trouble with the police, as well as his mother.
Jake’s widowed mom has decided to move the family to Orlando, Florida so his athletic younger brother Charlie can go to a tennis academy. Jake is athletic too, but in his last football game at his high school in Iowa, he started a fight when another player made a disparaging comment about Jake’s dad.
In Orlando, Jake doesn’t fit with the rich party atmosphere at the local high school but he meets a beautiful blonde student named Baja and a goofy, slightly chubby teenager named Max who’s into mixed martial arts. Then, an Internet video of his fight on the football field makes its way around the campus. Max urges Jake to train with him at a martial arts club run by a mysterious African named Jean Roqua (“Roka”), played by Djimon Hounsou. Jake declines, but he accepts Baja’s invitation to meet her at a big party being thrown in one student’s luxurious home.
The student turns out to be the high school bully, Ryan, who happens to be Baja’s boyfriend. Ryan goads Jake into a fight. Jake is no match for the mixed martial arts skills of Ryan, however, who takes pleasure in hurting Jake and knocking him out with a roundhouse kick.
Humiliated by Ryan and angry at Baja for setting him up, Jake begins training at Roqua’s club. Roqua doesn’t allow fighting outside of class, and Jake tries, with difficulty, to abide by the rules. Everything changes, however, when Ryan once again goads Jake into fighting by beating up Max, putting him into the hospital. Jake decides to take part in an illegal fight tournament so he can teach Ryan a lesson. Sometimes, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
NEVER BACK DOWN is surprisingly complex at times. There is some good dialogue, the action is exciting, and the performances are pretty good. Even so, a few characters are one-dimensional. For example, although the hero, Jake, is a well-rounded character, the villain, Ryan, is a more simple character. Thus, Sean Faris shines in the role of Jake, but the Ryan character could use more development.
NEVER BACK DOWN is rated PG-13, however. Thus, the fighting violence is very strong and has some images of blood in it at a few places. In fact, the fight scenes may encourage teenagers in high schools to use violence to stop bullies rather than peaceful means, such as appealing to the power of authority figures. The movie also contains plenty of foul language. There are also many shots of young women in skimpy bikinis in the movie’s first half when viewers are introduced to the party atmosphere at Jake’s new high school in Florida. Furthermore, at the big party in the beginning, there is underage drinking. On the positive side, however, Jake, the troubled hero, declines the offer of a beer at that party.
The movie also contains some light sexual innuendo when Jake and Baja are playfully boxing and wrestling in his bedroom and it ends in some amorous kissing. Another, worse scene at the teenage party shows two teenage girls covered in bubbles in a bath or hot tub kissing while other people watch.
Finally, the movie’s dominant worldview is mixed. Although there are positive messages about repentance, forgiveness and setting an example for your younger siblings, the wild teenage party is not rebuked strongly and fighting instead of going to authority figures for help is seen as a valid last resort to stop a bully who has gone too far. Even though we can defend ourselves against serious injuries, including physical death, appealing to authority figures to use their power to stop evil or violent people is a reasonable peaceful alternative that we have at our disposal. In fact, it is a perfect example of what Paul teaches in Romans when he urges us in Romans 12:21 to “overcome evil with good.” For rulers bring judgment to evildoers and do not bear the sword in vain (Romans 13:3-5)
Overall, therefore, NEVER BACK DOWN deserves an extreme caution acceptability rating for teenagers and adults.
(Pa, M, C, Ho, LLL, VVV, SS, N, AA, M) Mixed pagan worldview sending mixed pagan, moral and redemptive messages about using violence to solve problems, underage drinking, teenage girls wearing skimpy bikinis, protecting the weak, stopping a bully when he’s gone too far, amorous kissing, and some talk about repentance and forgiveness, but no overt Christian or biblical references, plus one brief completely gratuitous homosexual scene at a teenage party where two minor female characters covered with bubbles in bath or hot tub (with, it is implied, bikini tops off) passionately kiss; 36 or 37 obscenities (no “f” words, however), one strong profanity and two light profanities; very strong mixed martial arts fighting and boxing with some blood in a few shots, especially in a couple very strong roundhouse kicks, plus some strong kicks and punches to the ribs and a street fight results in one man being shoved into a rearview mirror, which breaks off; light heterosexual sexual innuendo as boys admire girls in skimpy bikinis and a scene ending in amorous kissing after a teenage boy and girl playfully box and wrestle, but brief depicted “Girls Gone Wild” lesbian immorality in one scene when two teenage girls with (it is implied) no bikini tops passionately kiss in bubble bath tub while people watch and one boy films the scene with a camera; no depicted sexual nudity, but implied sexual nudity when two girls covered with bubbles kiss, and upper male nudity in fighting and martial arts training scenes, plus female cleavage and teenage girls in skimpy bikinis, some of which are more revealing than others; brief alcohol use depicted and implied, plus flashbacks to an incident when teenager’s father got drunk and demanded car keys from son and underage drinking, but underage hero declines the offer of a beer; no smoking or drugs but girl jokes that her parents may have been smoking marijuana when they named her; and, bullying, teen protagonist gets into fights, bully humiliates people, troubled protagonist.
NEVER BACK DOWN, a popcorn movie, stars Sean Faris as Jake Tyler, a high school senior who’s angry about the circumstances of his father’s drunk driving death. At his new high school in Orlando, Florida, Jake makes friends with Baja, a beautiful blonde student, and Max, a slightly chubby teenager. Max tries to get Jake interested in joining his mixed martial arts gym run by a mysterious African, but Jake declines. Jake’s interest changes when the school bully goads Jake into a humiliating fight where Jake is terribly outmatched. When the bully goes too far, Jake has to use his new skills to put the bully in his place and stop him from hurting other people.
NEVER BACK DOWN is an entertaining popcorn movie that delves a little deeper than usual into its stereotypes and formulas, despite a predictable ending and a couple one-dimensional characters. The movie contains, however, a mixed worldview with plenty of foul language, very strong violence, underage drinking, and a completely gratuitous homosexual reference between two very minor characters. Despite some positive moral, redemptive elements, therefore, NEVER BACK DOWN deserves an extreme caution for teenagers and adults.