Never Back Down is The Karate Kid on steroids, with all the 'roid rage and none of the common sense.
It's all about fighting. Nearly two hours of chiseled topless dudes bare-knuckle bashing one another to bloody pulps. If seeing meatheads get their teeth knocked out in wannabe mixed martial arts street fights is your thing, then Never Back Down will be your movie of the year. For everyone else, it's so formulaic and laughably bad that you'll have every right to demand a refund.
Jake (Sean Faris) is a hot-headed punk teenager who likes to fight, and he blames himself for not taking the keys from his father before Dad died in a drunken-driving accident. He's also the new kid at his Orlando high school, and his face looks a bit like a young Tom Cruise, which is enough for a sultry vixen named Baja (Amber Heard) to invite him to a party. Little does Jake know that his fighting reputation precedes him, and (gasp) Baja's invitation was just so her boyfriend Ryan (Cam Gigandet) could beat the snot out of him (which he does, literally—we even see it in slow motion).
Spurned, Jake is convinced by his geeky friend Max (Evan Peters) to train with Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou), a Mr. Miyagi-type who spends his life teaching people how to fight but quickly forbids Jake to raise his fists outside the gym. This all leads up to a tournament called "The Beatdown," which is "the Super Bowl of Florida fight clubs," Max says, although it's so secretive that no one knows when or where it'll happen until receiving a text message the night of the event. Imagine training for months for this illegal fighting competition, and then being out of town (or otherwise occupied) the night it occurs.
In the meantime, Jake has trouble at home as his mom (Leslie Hope) is the histrionic type who blames him for everything. In one scene, she shatters a dinner plate against the wall for no good reason, tells Jake's younger brother Charlie (Wyatt Smith) to do the same, and then admits that it's her job to clean it up. It's no wonder Jake is such a mess.
The story (which writer Chris Hauty blatantly stole from The Karate Kid) is rather irrelevant in a movie like this, and as things drone on for 110 minutes, you resent director Jeff Wadlow for including so much emotional baggage. It's understandable for there to be a thread of plot holding things together, but there's far too much melodrama and bad acting that quickly drains the energy provided by the fights.
To be fair, the fights are reasonably entertaining, and as long as you look past the fact that no police exist in the world of this movie, there's nothing wrong with the fight sequences. Unfortunately, the rest of Never Back Down doesn't hold up its end of the bargain.