REVIEW: Never Back Down – No Surrender (2016)

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2016, Destination Films/Mandalay Entertainment/BMP

Director:
Michael Jai White
Producers:
Craig Baumgarten
David Zelon
Writers:
Chris Hauty (original characters, story, and screenplay)
Michael Jai White (story)
Cinematography:
Ross W. Clarkson
Editing:
Scott Richter

Cast:
Michael Jai White (Case Walker)
Josh Barnett (Brody James)
Gillian White (Myca Cruz)
Stephen Quadros (Matty Ramos)
Esai Morales (Hugo Vega)
Amarin Cholvibul (Taj Mahale)
Dan Renalds (Creech)
Nathan Jones (Caesar Braga)
Jeeja Yanin (Gym Fighter Girl)
Aaron Brumfield (Boris)
Tony Jaa (Himself)
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (Himself)
Eoin O’Brien (Cobra O’Conor)
Brahim Achabbakhe (Brody’s Young Pro Fighter)
Ron Smoorenburg (Case’s MMA opponent)

Five years after helping four young fighters for a tournament, Michael Jai White is back in front and behind the cameras as former MMA champion Case Walker in this third installment of the film series.

Case Walker, the former mixed martial arts champion, is in Beaumont, Texas competing in amateur fights in which he is constantly berated by his trainer to make the fights last. After his last match, he runs into an old friend, Brody James. Brody has joined the PFC, a new top MMA promotion and James’ first fight for the promotion is against a 7-foot beast named Caesar Braga. Brody, who has been living the high life of a fighter, asks Case to join him in Thailand to help him go on the straight and narrow for the fight.

Upon his arrival in Thailand, Case already finds himself at odds with Brody’s other trainer, Matty Ramos. Case uses old school tactics for his training methods. When Cobra, a brash and cocky fighter in Brody’s camp, challenges Case to a match, Case puts him in the hospital. The beating attracts the attention of PFC promoter Hugo Vega, who has a bit of history with Case. Case also finds his personal life changing when he meets PFC marketing promoter Myca Cruz, who at first makes Case uncomfortable by asking personal questions. However, Case, with the support of Brody, finally warms up to Myca. When Brody decides to finally do things right, he is injured during training. Vega is not going to postpone the fight against Braga and has only one new opponent in mind: Case. Case realizes something is wrong with the situation and hatches a plan to make things right.

It has been five years since we last saw mixed martial arts fighter Case Walker, played by Michael Jai White, who also made his directorial debut with the second installment of the MMA action film series. White once again proves himself not only one of the top actors and martial arts today, but once again, he proves himself as a director. He even co-wrote the screenplay with the creator of the film series Chris Hauty.

All three films seem to be about redemption in the MMA world and here, we see Case once again serving as a mentor as well as showing why he is one not to mess with in the ring. Interestingly enough, Case is not just a mentor to Brody, but also to two up-and-coming fighters who provide the comic relief of the film. What many will find interesting here is that Case relies not only on MMA, but makes good and ample use of his character’s style of Kyokushin-kai Karate to full effect in some of his fight scenes and training as they are the foundation of his style used in the film.

Unlike the previous two films, this is not a tournament movie. Rather, it focuses on the training for one fight. UFC fighter Josh Barnett makes for a good co-lead actor in fighter Brody James, who is reminiscent of a familiar character from the second film, hotshot Zack. He thrives on the celebrity of his fame but finds Case as a spiritual mentor who can lead him on the straight and narrow. Gillian White, Michael Jai White’s wife, makes for a good love interest in Myca (pronounced Mi-sha), who looks out for the best interest marketing wise but also has a good heart when it comes to Case. “The Fight Professor” Stephen Quadros seems somewhat evil at first as rival trainer Matty, but eventually he warms up and becomes a worthy ally in the film.

There are two primary villains in the film. One is the mastermind in Hugo Vega, played by Esai Morales, who goes to great lengths to make a successful fight for his promotion, even if they are not exactly legal. The other is the Australian powerhouse Nathan Jones, who plays the fighting villain in Caesar Braga, who snaps when he is asked a personal question about another kind of “case”. Jeeja Yanin, the Thai action star who kicked her way with 2008’s Chocolate plays a young girl training who has a fight scene with Brahim Achabbakhe, who plays a cocky fighter who mercilessly beats one of Case’s young protégés. Also look out for Ron Smoorenburg as Case’s opponent in the amateur fight that opens the film. Plus, look out for cameos from MMA legend Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and in one of his funniest appearances to date, Tony Jaa playing himself mistaking Case for a famous Hollywood actor who starred in a Disney movie.

Never Back Down: No Surrender is definitely a wonderful third installment of the film thanks to Michael Jai White’s performance in front and ability to prove himself as a director. While it breaks away from the tournament film, it still holds its own and that Tony Jaa cameo…definitely worth seeing.

WFG RATING: A-

DVD

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