(2009) ** Pg-13
105 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Dito Montiel. Cast: Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, Zulay Henao, Michael Rivera, Flaco Navaja (II).

/content/films/3543/1.jpgFor a movie that was considered a flop in its domestic release, Fight Club has inspired its fair share of knock-offs (okay, David Fincher's movie killed on DVD). The studios have learned their lesson in bankrolling underground fight movies: these are cheap knock-offs. Like Never Back Down before it, Fighting follows a well-built white boy with issues—and a black mentor—into the seedy world of underground smackdowns.

New Yorker Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) has run away from his past in Birmingham, Alabama, where his boxing career unraveled after spontaneously taking out his frustrations on his father the coach. Shawn still has the fight in him, a fact proven when his street sales of dollar-store goods outside of Radio City Music Hall are disrupted by jealous competitors. Self-described "two-bit hustler" Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) gets an eyeful, and before long, he's representing his find in a subculture of bare-knuckle brawls that are fodder for gambling and gangland exploitation. Also trafficking in the vicinity of this world is single mother Zulay Velez (Zulay Henao), to whom Shawn takes an immediate liking. His romantic pursuit runs afoul of a Scorsesean mother who's having none of him (even though he's about as gentlemanly as broke New Yorkers come) and, later, complications involving a secret Zulay's been keeping. In true Rocky and Karate Kid fashion, Fighting gives Shawn a nemesis, his former teammate and current professional success story Evan Hailey (Brian J. White of The Shield).

As scripted by director Dito Montiel (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) and Robert Munic, the plot is numbingly formulaic and Shawn a blandly familiar hero. But some compensating factors make a difference. As director, Montiel gives the picture verve, and he shoots New York with a native's eye (cinematographer Stefan Czapsky captures the film's distinctive street look). Fighting has an appealingly loose vibe with a touch of Saturday Night Fever about it, as when Shawn offers to take Zulay to "a place where you don't have to sit at a counter." And as he did in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Tatum shows here that he's capable of more than the stupefying performances he gives when unchallenged (as in G.I. Joe); under Montiel's direction, he breathes life into Shawn. Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing) and Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights) add their more distinctive flavors as the a-holes pulling the strings in the underground fight community, and Howard lathers up a special brand of nutty as the eccentric Harvey, a sad dreamer unnecessarily treated like dirt by the promoters a couple of steps above him on the social ladder.

Still, none of it is enough to disguise the bare frame that is Fighting's story, and the absence of any meaning deeper than "fight for what you believe in." Montiel and his collaborators can pat themselves on the back for elevating empty material just a bit, but this is disposable cinema, designed to hit and run after an opening weekend. Within minutes of the credit scroll, Fighting will fade from your memory like a passing dream.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/25/2009

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Fighting delivers another one-two punch from Universal in the hi-def A and V departments. The film's Unrated Version (108m) and Theatrical Version (105m) are available via seamless branching, so both versions share a remarkably faithful rendering of the filmmaker's visual intent. Aside from a bit of breakup in low-lit nighttime sequences, it's another perfect effort from Universal: color, texture and the finest of details come through in a sharp but natural transfer with a pleasing light grain throughout. Lively color and a deep black level contribute to the eye-catching picture. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix complements the film's realistic depiction of NYC with good directional effects, though those sensitive to variations in volume may be a bit annoyed by the pumped-up, percussive music and full-throttle fight sequences.

Beyond the customary My Scenes bookmarking and D-BOX capability, bonus features are limited to five "Deleted Scenes" (8:03, HD), some of them alternates, that are worth a look for fans of the film or its stars. A bit more added value comes in the form of a Digital Copy included on a second disc.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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