This frantically paced message film offers a simplistic message: Everyone has responsibilities. (Yawn.) Troubled, hot-tempered Jake Tyler (Sean Faris, flashing a Tom Cruise smile) certainly needs to learn about responsibilities. He's a bland high school football star who's uprooted from his Iowa home when widowed Mom (Leslie Hope) decides to move with Jake and little brother Charlie (Wyatt Smith) to Florida, to take up an offer of a tennis scholarship for Charlie.
Mom is an angry waitress, always picking on moody Jake, always praising plucky Charlie. The character of Charlie is in the film only to get the family to move. But Jake is there to start life over ... you know, new high school, new possible love interest in Baja Miller (Amber Heard -- a poor man's Jessica Alba -- who sucks the life out of the film every time she reappears), new friends. Hmmm, no, not exactly friends. Almost every guy Jake meets wants to open up a can of whoop-ass on him -- especially Ryan McCarthy (charismatic Shawn Michaels look-alike Cam Gigandet). All we ever learn about him is that he's rich, he's vicious, and his father is a psychopath.
Will there be a big beat-down between Ryan and Jake? Well, of course there will, because that's what clich & eacute;-ridden sports movies about wealthy, troubled teens do. But while Jake is a brawler, Ryan is a fighter -- and in that kind of matchup, the brawler always loses. So first Jake must find his way to tutelage under the direction of Hounsou's character, Jean -- a man who, it's said, never leaves his warehouse fighting studio. Jake and Jean are brought together courtesy of Jake's one new high school pal, curly-headed Max Cooperman (Evan Peters, amusingly annoying), who spends more time making videotapes than actually training.
Jean has much to teach, and Jake has much to learn. But that Baja girl keeps getting in the way of things, crinkling up her nose like Elizabeth Montgomery, but not making any magic. And of course Mom doesn't want Jake doing any more fighting. It all has to do with some deep dark family secrets, you see. Never Back Down has almost as many of those as it has skimpy bikinis and training sequences borrowed from Rocky.
At least the film boasts some interesting if overwrought cinematography. It's flashy and stylized, with cameras looking out from behind football helmets, from inside packing boxes that are being closed and eyelids that are being opened. Some of the fight scenes feature well-staged kicks and chops, but in most of them, the cameras are in too close on the action, and it's difficult to see what's actually going on. All of that is accompanied by fast, jagged editing and a loud soundtrack of pop, rock and hip-hop. Like the rest of Never Back Down, eventually it becomes numbing to see and hear.