The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011)
This is one I've been meaning to get to for some time, strictly due to the Michael Jai White factor. Without him, I'd pass on it in a heartbeat, because it just looks like your classic 2000s bad MMA punchfighter, complete with bad camera edits and angry derivative hard core jams. But it does have him, so we gave it a try. Let's see how it did-- or how he did.
Never Back Down 2 has four kids who want to learn to fight and enter a punchfighting tournament called-- wait for it-- The Beatdown. Their trainer: the one and only Michael Jai White. Will these kids be able to overcome their personal demons and prevail in this tournament? Will White be able to overcome his own in order to train them?
The only reason why this is any good at all is the Michael Jai White factor, both as an actor and a director. As an actor, he has an immense charismatic presence, which is so massive no other actor or actress in the film can move outside of his shadow. That would be even better if he were in the film more, but he's in it enough to make a huge difference. As a director, along with his cinematographer Yaron Levy, White shows how much he knows about what makes an action film great. The party scenes and the love scenes are pretty standard blah for the average punchfighting movie; but the fight scenes and training montages are top notch. No shaky cam, no jumpcuts, no MTV edits. In some cases we have long takes with multiple moves within the takes, which is a massive and welcomed departure to the usual split-second cuts within a single move we're used to seeing with these 2000s punchfighters. Pretty much everything else about this is paint-by-numbers, from the plot, to the characters, to the music; but where it counts, the fights and the action, Michael Jai White puts his stamp on it, and it elevates this to something better than paint-by-numbers.
I can't believe this is the first and only film Michael Jai White has directed, because he does such a great job. I imagine Levy as cinematographer helped a fair amount, but White brings a perspective as someone with a background in action films and Hong Kong cinema that really shows in this. I was also surprised to see that White wasn't the fight choreographer, because some of the scenes seem to have his fingerprints all over them. There are much better Michael Jai White films out there-- Black Dynamite and Blood and Bone come to mind right away-- but this one at least shows how big a talent he is, which is great to see.
This movie looks at two social issues with varying degrees of success. First, one of the fighters' fathers comes out as gay and leave his mother for another man. Much of the homophobia surrounding this comes from characters we identify with in the film as being unsavory, but it's not obvious right away that that's the case. We also find out that the fighter's issues with it stem more from him being young and hurt that his father left the family than it is that he's gay. The whole thing though isn't exactly handled well though, and was probably an issue they would've been better staying away from. The other one is racism by the police toward people of color. That one is a bit more subtle than the homophobia, but delivered much better. I don't know what Michael Jai White's personal experiences were with that, but I could see him taking it out on them in one scene in particular. This is an issue that should appear in more mainstream films, because it's something that needs more attention, especially in light of current institutions like Stop and Frisk in NYC.
Among the other actors, we had Alex Meraz, who I believed played a werewolf in the Twilight movies. He was one of the fighters. Laura Cayouette, who's been in a couple Tarentino films, played one of the fighters' mothers. That fighter was played by UFC fighter Todd Duffee. One thing I liked about his character, is that usually in a film like this he'd be the meathead, and instead he was the most thoughtful and most likable outside of White. The main character was played by Dean Geyer. His love interest was played by Jillian Murray. The one holdover from the first one (which I haven't seen) is Evan Peters as Max Cooperman. He's the guy organizing The Beatdown. Veteran character actor Rus Blackwell plays the "Caucasian Cop"-- that's what he's listed as in the credits--, meaning he's the racist cop that leans on White. That seems like White's sense of humor to name a character like that, but I don't know if that was him. Finally, there were some MMA folks in this, most notably Lyoto Machida and Big John McCarthy playing themselves.
Oh, and I can't forget this guy. DTVC favorite Jerry Katz! Again, like Lay the Favorite, he wasn't listed in the credits. Jerry, baby, what's going on with you man? You need to build that resume, get these things on your imdb bio. We're pulling for you here at the DTVC, and seeing you in anything is great. I was hoping you'd get more chances with the push to make more films in your native Louisiana, and it looks like that's coming to pass. Hopefully we'll see him in more things in the future.
This is on Netflix Instant. It's a little long at 103 minutes, but if you're a fan of what Michael Jai White brings to the table, it's worth a look. He takes it from blah to pretty good, which is no mean feat with a run-of-the-mill punchfighter like this.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1754264/