Bullet Points: Never Back Down: No Surrender
There aren’t many actors working in the business today with the action pedigree of Michael Jai White. He’s been headlining action movies since Spawn back in 1997 and when it comes to martial arts he holds more belts than a rack at Nordstrom. What you may not know about him is that he directed the second and now the third installment in the Never Back Down series. As you can imagine, that has allowed the series to take on a whole different life compared to most action film franchises. Allow me to explain:
Think of any number of franchises that stick to pure martial arts action; Best of the Best, Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Undisputed, American Ninja, okay, you get it. What I’m trying to tell you is that while I love most of the films that were born from those franchises, they would inevitably get more and more ridiculous as they went on. They normally started out as films that could almost happen in real life; a guy fights in a fighting tournament, his buddy gets hurt or killed, and he faces off against the bad guys and saves the day. By the final film of the franchise the hero had usually faced off against mobsters, drug dealers, gun smugglers, Russian KGB operatives, white supremacists, or my all-time favorite, the illegal underground fight to the death. What is different about Never Back Down: No Surrender, which is the third film in the franchise, is that not only does Michael Jai White not ramp up the ridiculousness to 11, but he shocked the hell out of me by not even going for some of the most stereotypical moves that appear in most fighting movies. Believe it or not, Never Back Down: No Surrender trades in the underground death matches and Neo-Nazi gangs for a film with heart, a respect for the martial arts, and just the right amount of kicks to the face.
Synopsis: Ex-con and MMA fighter Case Walker (Michael Jae White) agrees to help train his friend Brody James (Josh Barnett) for a match against a seemingly unstoppable monster named Braga (Nathan Jones).
- Key to Success: If MMA fighting in real life was as exciting as it looks in the movies then Dana White wouldn’t have such a hard time finding superstars who can consistently draw and not get hurt every other fight.
- The Cast: Michael Jai White and Josh Barnett carry most of the film but it also boasts impressive performances from Gillian White and Stephen Quadros. Former WWE wrestler Nathan Jones plays the one-note monster that is Braga but Esai Morales does a good job of keeping Hugo Vega, the fight promoter and money behind the spectacle, from becoming too over the top.
- Rampage: A special shout out goes to Rampage Jackson. His name and face are all over this movie. I’m assuming that he and White have a friendship in real life because Jackson is mentioned a few different times throughout the film and actually shows up (sort of) at one point nearing the finale. Using the joke more than once actually made it much funnier.
- Thai Flavor: The movie was filmed entirely in Thailand so you should’ve expected some cameos from some of their greatest action stars. Those cameos, while small, were fun to see as a fan of Thai cinema. Jeeja Yanin and Tony Jaa both play small parts in the film. Jeeja trains at the gym with Case Walker and Brody James and Tony Jaa makes an appearance at the big fight in the finale. I audibly laughed out loud over Tony Jaa’s character at the end. Snow Dogs!!
- I wanna be his Training Partner: Before Case Walker starts training his buddy Brody, we’re given a glimpse into what his training is like. We see him getting drunk in a strip club, eating pizza, and having a sex sandwich with two chicks in Thailand. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how Josh Brolin prepares for a role in a film.
- Bucking the Trend: I could’ve sworn that this movie was going to be an updated Kickboxer. I assumed that Brody would get into trouble with the Hugo Vega character, Vega would have him killed and dump his body outside of a strip club or something, and Case would take the fight in order to take down Vega and preserve the honor of his friend. That all would have been cool if it happened that way but the film takes a different turn and it’s better off for it. How many times do we really need to see that tale that I’ve just written about? (just kidding, I love Kickboxer and watch it once a month)
- Nice Kata Bro: I really liked how the kata was edited into the fight scene with Cobra. It’s something that I can’t remember seeing done before in quite that fashion and I think it fit the character perfectly. NBD3 also gave us several peeks at their training but it never did the full-on training montage. Nothing beats a great training montage.
Never Back Down: Never Surrender fell for one of the easiest rules to live by; never say “never”. Instead, always assume that there will be bonus Bullet Points to enjoy. Wait, we shouldn’t assume either? Just read the damn things…
- Every gym needs a guy who is a real asshole named Cobra working out in it.
- What does it say about violence against police officers that Case Walker goes from unknown to internet celebrity after a video of him beating up four cops while handcuffed appears online?
- Nathan Jones has a pretty cool t-shirt. Funny, it reminds me of another massive UFC-turned-wrestler.
Never Back Down: Never Surrender is a really good modern day fighting movie. Especially if you grow tired of seeing the same story over and over again. Michael Jai White does a great job behind the camera as well. The cast, while mostly unknown to me and probably most of you, does a fine job of acting within their characters and especially in the case of Vega, not going to crazy in his portrayal. While Blood and Bone is looked at as one of White’s best films, I would place NBD3 slightly above that. Barnett was better than he had any right to be and he added some serious legitimacy to the MMA in the film. I look forward to a fourth film in the franchise!