Fighting, the latest venture in former model Channing Tatum’s bid to be more shirtless than Matthew McConaughey, is possibly the closest cinema can come to replicating the sensation of chewing on cud.
The same three scenes are repeated ad nauseam, and then your brain throws up a little, except there’s still a half hour left, so you have to start back at step one.
Tatum plays Shawn MacArthur, a naïve young man who’s moved his small-town life to New York, rendered in a weird early-90s pastiche, when the city really was just a cesspit of gangs and violence, as director Dito Montiel presents it as being today. Invariably, the first of the three-scene formula involves Shawn committing some act of gentlemanly kindness, usually directed towards someone either disadvantaged in some way, or smoking hot – presumably as a rather cheap way of excusing his later actions. Sure, he beats up other guys without mercy just to make a quick buck — but look! He holds doors open for old ladies on the subway!
After the authenticity of his Southern manners has been firmly established — a process that demands from its audience a degree of patience far greater than is reasonable — Shawn meets Harvey, a desperate street hustler looking to become a man of real means, portrayed with infinite cool by Terrence Howard. Every second scene involves Harvey giving Shawn a pep talk: You can do this! I believe in you! I don’t believe in you, and you probably can’t do this, but we’re still going to make a helluva lot of money betting on your opponent! And then, finally, comes the third stage: the eponymous Fighting.It might be reasonable to expect from a film that so unabashedly glorifies violence either excellent choreography, or some imagination, or charismatic performances. Fighting has none of these. In fact, it is almost unbelievable how boring the bouts that take place are — of the calibre one might see on a Friday night on Sauchiehall Street.
Tatum remains remarkable unblemished throughout, despite being regularly pummelled in the face and through walls, which adds a further layer of stupidity to proceedings, conveniently without threatening his good looks in the slightest.
There is a much more interesting film to be made about Harvey and his sometime-nemesis Martinez, the wonderful, perpetually underused Luis Guzman, who along with Howard, seems to have simply arrived at the wrong set one day and gamely played along. Fighting is not that film, however: it is a dumb, brutish and chronically formulaic picture whose only redeeming quality is that perhaps it might wipe the smile from Matthew McConaughey’s face.