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On Film4: 18 Jan 5:15PM
Channing Tatum stars as a small-town nobody who arrives in New York and starts a lucrative career as an illegal streetfighter in Dito Montiel's follow-up up to A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
After his Sundance-praised debut hit A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints, writer-director Dito Montiel attempts to step up a notch with Fighting. Reuniting with his Saints star Channing Tatum and returning to his beloved New York, Montiel crafts another life-on-the-streets tale that feels like a cross between Midnight Cowboy and Fight Club.
Tatum plays Shawn MacArthur, an Alabama native who comes to New York to seek his fortune, though as we later discover his arrival is also a consequence of his being suspended from his father's wrestling team. We first meet him camped out on the sidewalk by Radio City Music Hall, peddling fake 'Harry Potter' books to unsuspecting passers-by. Before you know it, he's embroiled in a street-brawl when some dissatisfied customers get wind of his scam.
Acquitting himself admirably in the noble art of punching other people's lights out, little does Shawn know that he's being watched by self-confident hustler Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard), who immediately offers him the chance to earn £5000 on New York's bare-knuckle fighting circuit. With nothing to lose, Shawn accepts, and soon wins his first bout in front of hordes of baying customers betting on the outcome.
While Shawn fast becomes one of the main attractions on the circuit, his relationship with Harvey sours when it becomes clear he wants his protégé to throw a fight - or else he'll suffer at the hands of some heavies who are betting on the outcome. Worse still, the fight is against his nemesis, Evan Hailey (Brian White), who previously - and rather coincidentally - was a star member of Shawn's father's wrestling team back home.
As you would expect, Fighting boasts some visceral bouts, and a beefed-up Tatum and co. certainly throw themselves into them with gusto. A pity that the same could not be said for the rest of the script. Co-written by Montiel with Robert Munic, some of Fighting feels rather undeveloped, notably the relationship Shawn strikes up with Zulay (Zulay Henao), a single mother waitress he meets at a private club hang-out for those involved in the fight world.
While Tatum is perfectly fine in his role, it's Howard that steals just about every scene he's in as the slightly fey hustler. That said, he's no Dustin Hoffman and some of his work still feels rather affected. While Montiel is evidently keen to replicate the Ratso-John Buck relationship from Midnight Cowboy, the chemistry - and indeed the empathy - is never really there between the two actors.
As for Montiel, he'd be advised to steer clear of the same terrain for whatever his third film may be. Indeed, after the far more authentic Saints, Fighting feels rather like one of Shawn's counterfeit books. A rather contrived attempt to gain a wider audience, it's not arty enough to appeal to the indie crowd nor commercial enough to play for lovers of fight movies. Where does that leave Fighting? On the ropes, if not quite out for the count.
Like a poor man's Fight Club, Fighting is hardly a heavyweight. But with an enjoyable performance from Terrence Howard, the film is no disaster. Just don't expect anything with the charm of A Guide To Recognising Your Saints.
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