Watching Channing Tatum trying to emote in Fighting is like watching somebody trying to start a 28-year-old car that has sat for weeks during a chilly winter: The car spurts and sputters, gagging instead of roaring, and fails to go anywhere.
Tatum, who is seemingly being positioned as the next Patrick Swayze (He's pretty; he can dance; he can kick some ass!) has done some decent work in the past, like in Stop-Loss, but he comes off as a mush-mouthed moron in this uneven street-fighting movie. However, an amusing, eccentric turn by Terrence Howard almost saves the film—but not quite.
Tatum plays Shawn, a down-on-his-luck homeless guy trying to make it on the streets of New York City selling fake Harry Potter books and iPods. When a transaction goes all screwy, he finds himself defending his merchandise with his unholy fists in front of shrewd street hustler and wannabe fight-manager Harvey (Howard). Harvey sets up Shawn for an underground fight, which he wins, and eventually lets the guy crash on his couch as they plot their next big fighting move.
One of the big problems is that Tatum's Shawn doesn't seem physically capable of taking out any of his opponents in this movie. He faces off against numerous monsters who should be able to eat him alive, but Shawn mows them down with his mighty fists. None of the fights are convincing, and they lack suspense. While it's cool to sometimes see David take out Goliath, this film is ridiculous.
As street fights go, the stupid pavement/garbage-can finale of Rocky V was more exciting. I actually spent part of my weekend watching mixed-marital-arts matches on TV, and those boring bouts were still far more interesting than what this film has to offer. There's an indoor bout in some high-class house that features the fighters bashing each other's heads on a tile floor; there's another one atop a building. Everything in Fight Club was better than these scuffles.
It just so happens that Shawn's childhood enemy, Evan Hailey, is an underground fighter in Manhattan, too, and everything builds up to their fateful final bout. Evan and Shawn were apparently on a high school wrestling team together in Alabama, and Evan became their coach's favorite. That coach was Shawn's father, so there are some scores to be settled. No, I'm not making any of this up.
Of course, we get the requisite love interest, with Zulay Henao playing a character, oddly enough, named Zulay. She responds to Shawn's lethargic romantic overtures, even though Shawn tried to push a counterfeit Potter book on her earlier in the film. I guess it's because he's cute or something.
Howard is the best thing about the movie, providing Harvey with a whining street-hustler vibe that actually reminds me a bit of Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. If Tatum had half the charisma Jon Voight had with Hoffman, we might've had something with this film.
Instead, we get a formulaic movie with a slumming central star and a supporting player outshining him. I would actually pay to see another movie featuring Howard's Harvey. As for Tatum's mumbling Shawn, I don't ever want to see this stereotypical pastiche of a character again.