dir Dito Montiel
scr Robert Munic, Dito Montiel
with Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao, Luis Guzman, Brian White, Altagracia Guzman, Roger Guenveur Smith, Anthony DeSando, Michael Rivera, Flaco Navaja, Peter Tambakis, Gabrielle Pelucco
release US 24.Apr.09, UK 15.May.09
09/US Rogue 1h45
Boys in the hood: Howard and Tatum

tatum howard guzman
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Fighting Despite its eye-catching visual style, this film struggles to really come to life. The problem is that, even with some very strong acting, we're never quite convinced to believe either the relationships or situations.

Shawn (Tatum) is a young guy trying to make ends meet by selling fake books and DVDs on Manhattan streets. One day he happens to meet two people (twice!) who will change his life. One is Harvey (Howard), a more successful version of himself who seems to know absolutely everyone in New York and sees Shawn's potential as a bare-knuckle fighter at underground big-money bouts. The other is Zulay (Henao), a club waitress who catches his eye. But these fights are extremely brutal, and the backers might be more dangerous than his opponents.

There's very little actual plot here, besides the contrived narrative that strings together the various fight sequences. It's so forced and implausible that we're never drawn into the story at all. At least as a director Montiel captures the zing of life on New York streets, with loads of wit and attitude, and four fights that are carefully choreographed to a tribal score. Each fight is in a distinct setting, and each has its own painful brutality to it. Alas, the climactic rooftop showdown is rather dull; much better is the marble hallway brawl against a kinetic Asian opponent (Cung Lee).

Tatum has a superbly magnetic screen presence, even if the script never gives him much to do, we are drawn to. The best thing about the film is his interaction with Howard, who offers a full-on, layered performance that actually makes the whole film worth seeing. The heart of the film is the relationship between these two men, but the script seems afraid to explore it in any real depth. Instead, it tilts toward the unconvincing romance between Shawn and Zulay (Henao is beautiful but has no on-screen chemistry). In this vacuum, the film is stolen by Altagracia Guzman as Zulay's sassy abuela (a comedy-sketch version of the role she played in Raising Victor Vargas).

In the end, Montiel just about keeps things watchable through his energetic editing. As a filmmaker, he clearly loves to smash things up--people, shops, buildings--but when the script is this predictable and manufactured no amount of manly thuggery can rescue it. Especially when it seems like it's glorifying the violence it pretends to wag a finger at.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 6.Apr.09

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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall