A movie can take the hormonal amplification of high school years to funny and strange extremes. Never Back Down instead does this by dehumanizing its characters and assuming all teenagers are mouth-breathing sheep. It’s completely offensive teen-sploitation garbage. The hook of being a mixed- martial-arts Karate Kid isn’t enough when the movie lacks what made The Karate Kid work: humility. Things are so bad for Jake Tyler (Sean Faris) in his Orlando, Florida ’hood that even the coolest house party of the year guarantees violence. (“If you didn’t come here to fight, why did you come here?” Jake’s nemesis Ryan (Cam Gigandet) asks at one of those “fight parties.”) This degrading view of teenage norms allows director Jeff Wadlow to get off on multitudes of girls in bikinis cheering while guys beat on each other. It’s an insult to adolescent desires: Everyone at the school is a contemptible, bloodthirsty ghoul whose only hope is they’ll see their classmates decimated on YouTube. 

Faris’s screen presence relies on his physical resemblance to Ralph Macchio and Tom Cruise (maybe he can try an Outsiders remake). Though the film’s dialogue sometimes resists cliche and Wadlow at least tries for visual flourish, the movie’s attitude is so ugly and uninteresting, Never Back Down insults its very target audience.

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