Channing Tatum as Shawn MacArthur
Terrence Howard as Harvey Boarden
Zulay Henao as Zulay Valez
Michael Rivera as Ajax
Flaco Navaja as Ray Ray
Peter Tambakis as Z
Luis Guzmán as Martinez
Anthony DeSando as Christopher Anthony
Roger Guenveur Smith as Jack Dancing
Brian White as Evan Hailey
Ivan Martin as Stockbroker Jerry
Danny Mastrogiorgio as Trader Jim
Altagracia Guzman as Alba Guzmán
Gabrielle Pelucco as Lila
Angelic Zambrana as Kimo’s Girl
Directed by Dito Montiel
“Fighting” tries to give the classic fighter movies of the ’70s a modern spin, although Tatum’s limited acting abilities and Montiel’s lack of a consistent vision for his film keeps it from ever delivering on a promising central premise.
Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) is a young man from Birmingham, Alabama trying to make it in New York City by hustling on the streets, but when con man Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) sees that Shawn can hold his own in a fight, he convinces him to take part in a series of bare-knuckle fights against a number of tough opponents.
This review should be prefaced with the caveat that this writer wasn’t as enamored by Dito Montiel’s self-reflective debut “A Guide to Recognize Your Saints” as others for reasons that had completely slipped his mind until about 20 minutes into “Fighting” when it all became clear once again.
It starts off well enough with Channing Tatum taking front and center as Shawn, who we meet as he hawks “Harry Potter” books and iPods to tourists in Rockefeller Center. An altercation with fellow street hustlers catches the eye of con man Harvey Boarden, who drags the impressionable young homeless man to secret locations throughout the boroughs to take part in impromptu fistfights that are bet upon by rich Wall Street types. Shawn has no fear when taking on bigger opponents, and he finds that the money he makes when he wins is good enough incentive to face tougher opponents.
Because this film is clearly about Shawn’s character arc, you’d think he’d be a well-developed personality, and it’s surprising that this isn’t the case at all. For the majority of the film, the only thing we know about his past is that he left Birmingham to escape Daddy issues, but there’s so little depth to the character otherwise. We learn the most about Shawn when he runs into Evan Bailey (Brian White), an arrogant acquaintance from his past, and you can immediately figure out where things are going to go, confirmed 45 minutes later after that initial meeting with the revelation that Evan is an extreme fighter,
While Tatum can convincingly act the tough guy, he just doesn’t have the dramatic chops to bring much depth to a role that might have been played by a Stallone or a Travolta thirty years ago. Channing spends most of the film brooding and mumbling his way through lines, as Montel seemingly allows his actors to riff and improvise around the semi-scripted dialogue to make it sound more natural. Terrence Howard excels at this part, creating an odd Ratso Rizzo-like character that’s easily the most entertaining aspect of the movie. He really makes the most out of this role, wearing Harvey’s eccentricities proudly. The oddly-named Zulay Henao plays Shawn’s love interest, the slightly less oddly-named Zulay Valez, a waitress at the club who has her own connections to Harvey. The forced romance falls as flat as the similar relationship at the center of Montiel’s previous film, but here, it feels like it’s done mainly to appease Tatum’s female followers. Any guy who expected a hardcore fighting movie will have tuned long before this.
On the other hand, having more money to play with allows Montiel to shoot his second film all over Manhattan, including impressive panoramic helicopter shots of the city. Montiel’s greatest strength as a filmmaker lies in his ability to create a film that feels like classic movies shot in the city during the ’60s and ’70s, but in doing so, he creates a romanticized version of New York that doesn’t necessarily exist in current reality. He has a strange way of shooting the movie that often takes away from his improved production values, sometimes switching to shaky handheld camerawork or strange framing. The fight sequences aren’t shot or choreographed particularly well either, and that’s something that might have made a huge difference in making the four key fight sequences more exciting.
While Brian White’s character is the closest the film comes to a straight-forward antagonist for Shawn, there are lots of sleazy characters hanging around the duo including Luis Guzman as a competing manager, and others whose roles aren’t nearly as clear. The worst of the lot is the one played by chronic scenery-chewer Roger Guenveur Smith, who somehow still has a career after playing a similarly slimy character in Bill Duke’s Cover. The trio of young sidekicks who follow Shawn and Harvey everywhere, essentially street urchins who egg Shawn on at his fights, are chronically annoying with their off-hand quips to try to add humor to the movie. At times, it feels like Montiel is trying too hard to appeal to today’s younger audiences, while still instilling a sense of nostalgia. The two things never quite mesh.
The Bottom Line:
As much as one hopes Dito Montiel might flourish from having a bigger budget at his disposal, “Fighting” is a fairly standard city drama with a predictable plot that never delivers on the action or the emotion one might expect from this type of story from the streets.