Fighting: Most Aptly Titled Film Thus Far in 2009
The dialogue is somewhat stale. The developments are all familiar. The characters are one-dimensional. Yet odds are if you’ve handed your money to the box office and your ticket says “Fighting,” you weren’t expecting Shakespeare in the Park. The fighti choreography isn’t revolutionary, but it’s convincingly staged, and everyone in my audience was on the edge of their seat. Perhaps I’ve seen one too many films about a street fighter trying to overcome the odds to be truly thrilled, but this film did have an unusually captivating lead actor for this type of genre flick in Channing Tatum. Also, while some folks may be interested in this film since it has an actor of Terrence Howard’s caliber in it, Howard makes many unusual acting choices with his inflection of line delivery. Although he helps make his scenes interesting, there’s a difference between interesting due to high quality and interesting due to strangeness.
We meet Shawn MacArthur (Tatum) on the streets of New York, attempting to sell fake Harry Potter books. When someone calls him out and he punches out a few people, he is noticed by Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard), a street hustler who believes he could make some money being an amateur fighter. After winning his first fight or two, he starts making a bit of money and chasing a beautiful single mom named Zulay (Zulay Henao). However, when he has a big match approaching with a professional fighter/former high school enemy (Brian White), and the best way to make money is to throw the fight, he’s faced with a difficult decision between pride and wealth. Which will he choose? The answer may surprise you.
Okay, maybe it won’t. There really aren’t any surprises here, except for Terrence Howard’s strange line deliveries. At times it felt like a high-pitched monotone, other times he seemed to be intentionally slurring his words. He is still the same charismatic actor as before, but I was being drawn to his performance for the wrong reasons. The main reason this movie comes close to transcending the genre is Channing Tatum. He has a charming inarticulate way about him without being too emotive– think Marlon Brando meets Keanu Reeves in the body of an Abercrombie model. In the scenes with Howard and Luis Guzman, he gets swallowed by their energy to some degree, but in his scenes where he tries to win over Zulay, he doesn’t need to say anything to win her– and us– over. His easygoing magnetism makes us take notice, and his tough guy demeanor convinces us that he isn’t merely a pretty boy. The movie is what it is, but if you’re a fan of the genre, Tatum delivers the goods.
P.S. For fans of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, it’s fun to see Roger Guenveur Smith, a.k.a. Smiley, in a major supporting role.