Film Review: 'Fighting' Lacks Muscle

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spoiler alert: "Fighting" contains fighting. Sadly, however, "Fighting" doesn't have enough fighting. In a movie as bluntly titled as "Fighting," you'd expect lots of fighting: eight or nine fights, at least. Instead, "Fighting" contains only four fights, and only two of them are any good.

Such is the critical math necessary to assess this limp underground-brawling drama.

Set in a seedy New York underworld in which rich stockbrokers place bets on hand-to-hand battles, "Fighting" stars Channing Tatum as Shawn MacArthur. Sweet-talking Svengali Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) draws the kid into his first underground fight, and soon Shawn is facing off against dangerous brutes, with tens of thousands of dollars at stake -- and trying to win the heart of Zulay (Zulay Henao).

As painful as the movie's bloody bare-knuckle brawls can be to watch, they don't hold a candle to the frightening spectacle of Tatum brooding or, yikes, Terrence Howard doing whatever it is Terrence Howard's doing in this movie.

To be fair, it's not as if "Fighting" gives Howard anyone to play off of. Shawn has only one boring dream: "I just wanna make some money," he tells Harvey on their way to his first rumble. The halfhearted back story given to Shawn suggests past drama with a former teammate. It's far from the movie's most ridiculous coincidence that the former teammate, played by Brian J. White, runs into Shawn and just happens to be a successful fighter himself.

Pleasure comes in the form of the movie's able supporting cast, from the implacable Roger Guenveur Smith as a scary underground sharpie to the always-reliable Luis Guzmán as, basically, Luis Guzmán. Best of all is Altagracia Guzman as Zulay's grandmother, whose frequent interruptions of the two young lovers provide the movie's few moments of intentional comedy.

Also giving a spectacular performance is Tatum's bare chest, which never disappoints. Frequently it out-acts the human to whom it's attached. "Fighting" isn't very good, but it will make you hope that someday, some great director will give Tatum's pecs the star vehicle they deserve.

-- Dan Kois

Fighting PG-13, 105 minutes Contains intense fight sequences, some sexuality and brief strong language. Area theaters.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company