[Screen It]

(2009) (Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard) (PG-13)

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Drama: A street hustler becomes the unlikely manager for a young man who turns out to be adept as an amateur street fighter.
Shawn MacArthur (CHANNING TATUM) is a young man who's trying to make ends meet by selling any number of items on the streets of New York. He's drawn the attention of street hustler Harvey Boarden (TERRENCE HOWARD) who, with the help of his right-hand man, Z (PETER TAMBAKIS), and a few others, gets an idea after watching Shawn fight off some would-be thieves.

Having a past connection to underground street fighter organizer Jack (ROGER GUENVEUR SMITH) and his businessman associate, Martinez (LUIS GUZMAN), Harvey promises Shawn he can earn $5,000 if he wins an amateur fight. Although out-matched in his first bout, Shawn manages to win, all while becoming smitten with club waitress and single mom Zulay Valez (ZULAY HENAO).

Yet, with his reputation growing, Shawn must contend with increased demand for him and his fighting prowess, all of which seems to be leading him toward an eventual bout with professional fighter Evan Hailey (BRIAN WHITE) who has a contentious past connection with the upstart amateur.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Considering our current economic crisis and climbing unemployment rate, it isn't that surprising to hear of people so desperate for work that they'll pretty much take whatever is offered to them. For instance, not long ago, a news story ran about a formerly high-paid executive who now delivers pizzas for minimum wage and whatever tips his customers can afford.

Shawn MacArthur wasn't ever among the upper echelon of wage earners, but he's also out there on the streets doing what he can to survive, peddling counterfeit goods, umbrellas and such. When he has to fight off some thieves, another street hustler, Harvey Boarden, spots his raw talent and figures he can make some money off his physical prowess.

So begins the simply titled "Fighting," a drama that features -- natch -- some decently staged "underground" fight sequences, but otherwise is so boring, trite and formulaic when fists aren't flying that it probably won't be a cinematic heavyweight contender of any sort.

As directed by Dito Montiel from a script he co-authored with Robert Munic, the pic is essentially just a retread of the old "Rocky" plot (which itself was yet another variation of a rags to potential riches story told countless times before it).

Granted, the fighting here occurs outside of a ring, and is pretty much of the "anything goes" variety. And the crusty old manager character (the delicious Burgess Meredith before he became a caricature in the later films) has been replaced by the hustler (Terrence Howard playing the "I coulda been a contenda" former fighter turned opportunist), but it otherwise follows the same trajectory. Not surprisingly, but only serving to dredge up comparisons, star Channing Tatum (the "Step Up" films) seems to be channeling Stallone's humble and down on his luck, underdog persona who just so happens to be able to fight.

The filmmakers never really worry themselves about explaining why the latter is true. We learn he was once on his father's wrestling team (part of a revelation to explain part of Shawn's troubled soul persona), and he does beat up the guys trying to steal his stuff. Yet, he lucks out in his first fight (after clearly being outmatched) and then suddenly turns into a fairly capable brawler.

But that's the least of the film's worries as it suffers far more from an unimaginative updating of its all too familiar -- and thus predictable -- storyline, as well as a glacial pace that absolutely freezes any sort of building momentum in its tracks.

Scenes take forever to culminate and segue to the next, the dialogue is flat, and the overall impression is that the performers are ad-libbing while stretching to kill and/or fill time. While there's at least a tiny bit of potential in the similarly contrived romancing by the protagonist of yet another down on her luck character -- Zulay Henao, whose name is so exotic sounding the filmmakers named her character after her -- that too is squandered and drags on and on and on.

The result is a film that has spurts of energy during the fight sequences (although the last one -- featuring a showdown with the film's obligatory, cocky fighter with a bad attitude, played by Brian White -- is over-edited and not as "fun" and/or involving as those that precede it), but then grinds to a halt when the drama kicks in.

In fact, about the only thing the film had me engaged in was trying to fight the urge to leave or doze off. Possibly the most boring movie ever made about that subject matter or featuring it in its title, "Fighting" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed April 20, 2009 / Posted April 24, 2009

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