Channing Tatum gets ready to level the final blow in "Fighting"

Channing Tatum seems like a model pretty boy, but after half an hour of Fighting, it is apparent he is a good fit for this type of movie.  Playing a down on his luck college wrestler who is in NYC just looking for a break.  Or, at least, looking to sell fake Harry Potter books.  The movie starts out with him being jobbed by a small time hustler (authentically played by Terence Howard) and his crew.  In the process, he shows his chops as he pops a few of them with some left-right combos.  Once he tracks down Howard and gets his money back, Howard convinces him there is money to be made in New York beating the crap out of other young hot heads.  Tack on a down-on-her-luck waitress (Colombian actress Zulay Henao) to fall in love with, and you have the makings of a serviceable plot to stage well-choreographed fight scenes around.

This in and of itself is not enough to make a movie worth watching.  Fortunately for us, though, Tatum is just young and vacant enough to pull off the “rube who can kick ass” role and Henao takes a throwaway role and makes it somewhat distinguishable with the interplay between, she, Tatum and her character’s grandmother.  The real scenery chewers in this movie are who you might expect.  Terence Howard and Luis Guzman play hustlers of two different levels that started out on the same footing, but one (Guzman) screwed over the other to get slightly higher.  Their parts are underplayed quite effectively, and it helps to bring a realism to the movie that echoes some of the better down-and-out 70’s films.  Kind of like Rocky.

The fight scenes, while unconventional, are definitely better than those of a “Jet Li strung up on wires” variety.  Too awkward to be flashy, but not awkward enough to look real.  This guy wins some, but there is no miracle knockout every time.  Sometimes he has to get help, and it makes them all look bad in a good way.

Here’s what I like in a good movie about fighting:

  • People who obviously have no other options.  This is covered, Tatum lives on a shoestring, so he has the proverbial “nothing to lose.”
  • People with nothing more than dime-store wisdom.  Hey there is a reason these people hustle one another and not Joe Six-pack who lives comfortably in the suburbs.
  • Not a lot of pretty faces.  Tatum has a few scars, but otherwise most the faces in this flick are either the greatest fighters in the world or just came in from a modeling gig.
  • The damsel in distress is not just window dressing.  This one makes a move that saves them all.
  • There is a discernible result to the fight.  Someone needs to look hurt.  They never really dwell on this, but Tatum’s face was remarkably clear of bruises soon after each row.

So in 3 of the 5 things, this movie succeeds.  I appreciate that everyone tried to act in this movie.  Even though it is by the numbers fare, I felt the characters had true motives, and that they did not look far for satisfaction.  In life, these guys only have a couple of moves, with no ideas beyond that.  They could have tried a little harder to find fighters who, with one exception, weren’t scar free and ripped.  The story would have benefited more to give a little more evidence of the pain involved.  That would be nothing more than a little make up.

All tolled, this is a movie you won’t remember for all that long, but you won’t feel like you wasted your afternoon.

Rating ***(3) out of ***** (5)

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