Off the back of Lesbian Vampire Killers comes a challenger for most self-explanatory movie title of 2009. But thanks to Channing Tatum and writer/director Dito Montiel – reuniting after A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints – Fighting is mercifully more than the sum of its bare-knuckle brawls.
Its tale of one lonely loser’s quest for redemption, restoration and the love of a sexy cocktail waitress (Zulay Henao) earns some emotional resonance to go with the Fight Club Jr fist-flailing.
Scam artist Harvey (Terrence Howard) – think Fagin crossed with Ratso Rizzo – plucks Tatum’s Alabama native Shawn from New York pavement-peddling and chucks him into the corrupt, underground raw-fist circuit, where well-heeled sorts bet on dumb nuts who risk hospitalisation for their amusement.
As he did with Saints, Montiel takes a worn premise and makes something interesting out of it, while Tatum mans up to fullblown lead after a run of scene-nicking support parts. From bloody rucks to mental anguish, he makes Shawn’s pain tangible on every level. Unfortunately, Montiel doesn’t gain as much traction as he wants (or needs) from the wheedling Harvey.
The intention is for Howard’s laughing-stock hustler to add a tragic layer, but while his and Shawn’s rapport gets lots of breathing space, their relationship toils to build up a full head of steam, leaving you begging for the next smash’n’grab episode.
So bring on the fights… While Tatum uses his fists and a few nifty wrestling moves, his adversaries include Russian boxers, Muay Thai masters and Ultimate Fighters, giving a jittery edge to every scrap that has you wondering how he’s going to emerge alive, let alone win.
Weaving its way through Asian pleasure palaces, Bronx back alleys and Manhattan high-rise rooftops, Fighting deals one wincing blow after another – but always leaves you spoiling for more.
Despite its dog-eared underpinnings, Fighting delivers some heady testoster-tainment. But it’s Channing Tatum who gives it a bruising grace. If you’re wondering why he’s being tipped as the next big thing, this punchy encounter will answer the question. Feel the pain.