Not only is it not necessary to have seen Never Back Down to enjoy its sequel, I’d actually advise against seeing it. Not because it will adversely affect your enjoyment of specifically this film, but because after watching Never Back Down, you will struggle to enjoy anything at all for at least three days. I watched it because it seemed appropriate for reviewing this film, only to find that I was unable to see Never Back Down 2 due to blurred vision after a three-day binge of self-loathing and noisy crying.
Luckily for me, once the tears and sadness had disappeared, I found that Never Back Down 2 is a rare straight-to-video sequel that greatly improves upon its predecessor.
Like 150 other MMA/boxing/street fighting films that bypassed cinema screens, Never Back Down 2 is about a troubled soul with a heart of gold entering a martial arts tournament. In fact, it triples your value for money because you get three of them, plus a bonus fourth character that starts on the same path as the other three but gets distracted by the dark side along the way.
These four characters are all struggling with problems financial, parental, social and physical. Each finds either solace or solution by training with grand MMA wizard Case (played by the film’s director, Michael Jai White). Case, a talented MMA fighter who disappeared from the scene due to a prison stretch and Hurricane Katrina, is constantly hassled by racist local cops. They arrest him on the eve of the big money Beatdown tournament, and it’s up to his students to get him out of jail in time to coach them through the event.
The four main-character split works well, introducing an element of doubt as to who will win the tournament. Granted, it’s still fairly predictable, but in a combat-sport tournament film, anything less than entirely predictable should be commended.
This small point actually exemplifies the main appeal of Never Back Down 2 – it doesn’t do much different from the many similar films already on video shop shelves, but it does the same things better.
The performances aren’t bad at all. It’s a low budget film and it’s not packed with big names, but they all do quite well. I had some reservations about Todd Duffee, who I’ve seen fighting in the UFC (where he currently holds the record for the fastest knockout, taking out Tim Hague in just seven seconds), as this is his first acting role. The size of the guy would suggest that he was well suited to playing a wall or a slab of concrete, but I wasn’t convinced he was the guy to be playing a college student concerned about his mother’s financial difficulties. He makes a pretty good fist of it, though, and will be someone to keep an eye out for in the future.
Of course, it’s unlikely anyone is watching Never Back Down 2 for the acting performances. It’s the punching performances in the fight scenes we’re interested in. As a big MMA fan, I found a lot to enjoy in the matches, which were dramatised but fairly faithful to real MMA bouts. That said, if you’re not a fan of the sport, I don’t know what you’re going to take from them, or from the training scenes. My guess would be not much.
Fortunately for everyone, there’s a great scene where a handcuffed Michael Jai White takes on ten cops at the same time. You don’t have to be an MMA fan to enjoy that. It’s a head-clobbering good time.
A decent chunk of the credit for the film should go to the script. Within the confines of the formula these films seem to follow, this one is more mature, developed and interesting than the others that I’ve seen (such as the similarly titled Beatdown).
Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown, then, is a surprisingly strong straight-to-video MMA actioner. It does everything it’s meant to do, and it does it well. It’s unspectacular, but it’s good enough. Recommended for MMA fans.
We get some deleted scenes that I’ll politely refer to as incredibly brief and of no consequence. There’s also a commentary with Jai White and actors Todd Duffee and Scottie Epstein. It’s not the most informative chat-track, but they have a good chemistry together and it’s a pleasant enough affair.
Film:Disc: You can rent or buy Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown at Blockbuster.co.uk.