Maybe it’s a bad idea to expect much from a movie with a title as generic as Fighting , but the new dudes-punching-each-other drama comes from director and co-writer Dito Montiel, who in 2006 made the gritty, street-level coming-of-age movie A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints . Saints effectively combined some very familiar storytelling elements with well-developed characters and a genuine sense of place, evoking Montiel’s own formative years in Astoria, Queens.
Fighting also takes place in New York City, mostly in Manhattan, although it makes brief detours to Brooklyn and the Bronx. Montiel’s ability to conjure up the dirt and claustrophobia of New York, rather than the glam more common to Hollywood movies, is about the only strength he brings to this otherwise dull and predictable tale about a street hustler (Tatum) who gets caught up in the world of underground bare-knuckle boxing. Tatum’s Shawn is a monosyllabic scrapper getting by selling bootlegs on the sidewalks, and he’s spotted by fellow hustler Harvey (Howard) when he gets in a brawl with someone trying to pinch his wares.
Soon Harvey is pushing Shawn on the shady characters who operate the clandestine network of no-holds-barred fights, and Shawn is eagerly lapping up the easy money that comes his way. It’s painfully obvious as soon as Shawn spots an old hometown rival in a local nightclub that the two will end up facing off in the movie’s climax, or that when he’s told to throw a fight, his innate integrity won’t allow him to be anything other than a winner.
Montiel can’t transcend clichés here as he did in the past; Tatum, who was surprisingly impressive in Saints , reverts to his more common man-slab persona, and the increasingly mannered Howard seems to be playing his part from another planet. The rote love story is only slightly more convincing than the rote underdog tale, and neither ever rises to the level of compelling drama. Montiel’s debut indicated that he had something real to say about working-class life, but none of that passion comes through here.