I think Never Back Down is the perfect title for straight to video sequels. It’s a name people may recognize, but they certainly have no attachments to it. It’s just the basic premise of high schoolers getting into MMA. That’s a perfectly good reason to give Michael Jai White his directorial debut and a chance to introduce three new fighters. The very first cut, still temporary, screened at ActionFest.
Moving up to college in Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown, Max (Evan Peters) from the first movie is putting together the next Beat Down tournament. He enlists freshman Mike (Dean Geyer) and hotshot boxer Zack (Alex Meraz). An injury stops Zack from boxing, so instead he trains with Mike, noble poor boy Tim (Todd Duffee) and comic store clerk Justin (Scottie Epstein) at Case Walker’s (White) back alley gym.
The film deals with its character crap in the first act. Mike’s parents split up when his father came out. Mike has the hots for Zack’s girlfriend, Eve (Jillian Murray). Mike sees the rejection as a boxing ring knockout. Tim offers to quit school and work so his mom can pay the mortgage, but mom makes it work by waitressing at a strip club. Why stop there? This is DTV, just have her hit bottom as a stripper!
The gay insensitivity may be realistic among teens, but I’m not sure Eve confronting Mike is really addressing homophobia. Although, they’re putting this message in a movie aimed at violent spectators, so maybe that is the way to get positive messages out there. It goes to Katrina for some deeply relevant historical relevance too.
As soon as Case starts training the boys, White’s attitude beats down any of the weaknesses of the script or acting (Sorry, I don’t believe Stacey Asaro knows anything about MMA, as her character of a receptionist ogles cage fights she streams at the office). Case cuts through movie clichés too. Don’t waste time asking his name. Don’t tell him why you want him to train you. Tell him why HE should share his awesome skills.
Justin picks a fight with some thugs who threaten him and it’s a good fight, but revenge is bad. You shouldn’t fight for revenge, and Justin becomes the bad guy. Mike, Zack and Tim have to face him in The Beatdown and it’s intense. All four fighters could have their own action spinoffs.
White finally gets to put on a show when Case takes on a gang of corrupt cops. Handcuffed, he moves and flows with impressive brutality. That scene also puts an internet age twist to the old “incriminating video.” Why reveal it in the climax? Just stream it live!
Never Back Down 2 delivers its promise of a beat down. The fighting is way more intense and just more entertaining than the original.