Tagline: Bring the pain
Directed by Jeff King
Starring: "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Walton Goggins, Laura Vandervoort and William B. Davis
THE PLAN:Down on his luck ex-con John Brickner is in a moral quandary. He's got a guilty conscience over killing a man with his bare hands, and yet those hands were just made for punching faces. Finding himself in an underground fight club, Brickner must decide whether to continue bringing the pain unto his opponents, even if it means making big money and helping out a sick child.
THE KILL: Who could have guessed when I wrote back in December about the timeless structure of the Channing Tatum-vehicle FIGHTING that I'd be writing about it again so soon? Regarding a Steve Austin movie, no less? Okay, I guess the "timeless" aspect should have tipped me off that I'd be revisiting the same old story again. I just never thought I'd see Steve Austin walking in Channing Tatum's shoes...
Austin plays John Brickner, whom we meet as he's leaving prison. Judging from his solemn appearance and soft-spoken nature, we can assume that Brickner isn't a bad man, was probably at the wrong place at the wrong time, and is mournful of his criminal past. (We'd be right to assume these things, of course.) Brickner gets a couple of honest man's jobs, as a construction worker and more notably, a bar bouncer, where his adeptness at breaking up fights and tossing dudes out the door catches the eye of a comely waitress (Laura Vandervoort) and a small-time hustler (Walton Goggins of "The Shield" fame). It turns out that these two are an unlikely pair of promoters/managers for underground boxers, and Brickner - what with his ability to punch drunkards in the face and throw them on their asses - seems like the ideal man for their next bout. Initially reluctant, Brickner eventually agrees, thanks to the large stakes at play and a dying girl in need of a heart operation (she's the daughter of the man Brickner manslaughtered). Brickner proves to be an awesome ass kicker, and takes on more fights; along the way to "the big bout" with a super badass, the trio become friends, learn a lot about each other and themselves, weigh the consequences of their actions, contemplate the meaning of life, etc. etc.
Steve has an unusual way of giving an autograph...
As you can tell, there's nothing new under this particular sun. And yet, damn it all, this formula always sort of works. On me, at least. Whether it's the underdog drama or the cathartic effect of watching someone's face get pummeled in, movies like FIGHTING and DAMAGE will always catch the eye of fans of action flicks with heart.
I won't claim that Austin is a good actor, or even really capable of emoting (hell, he can't even approach that thespian John Cena, who is at least able to use his lunkheaded charisma as a crutch), but for what the movie asks of him, he's likable. There's a strange believability to his grief, which he carries around for most of the film, and it adds that most important factor: you root for him. Of course, the best role is always the shady lowlife promoter who hides away a heart of gold, and Goggins plays "Reno" precisely the right way. And for her part, Vandervoot is a capable enough actress; she's got big ol' eyes that do most of the acting for her, though.
Steve having flashbacks of being taunted at school...
DAMAGE isn't anything special; you know what you're getting into once you know the basic plot. If you're a fan of Austin (or just wrestling/Ultimate Fighting in general), it's a good bet you'll enjoy yourself even more. Don't expect any surprises along the way, and you'll be able to set your watch to it.
A nice montage of fight scenes from DAMAGE
TOP DEATH: No one dies in this flick, although I'm sure a few nerve endings met untimely demises.
TOP ACTION: As is usually the case with such films, the final battle is pretty damn entertaining, especially as this one (mostly) takes place on a fence suspended in the air of a factory.
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Vandervoort is easy on the eyeballs, but she does't make it any easier by staying dressed the whole time.
HOMOEROTIC MOMENT:I guess if you get your rocks off on watching dudes hammering each others' faces in, you might do well to check this one out.
TOP DIALOGUE:A Tie: "Don't let the lord hit ya where the good lord split ya." OR "What you know about me could fit in the crack of my ass." (I just like them both too much to choose.)
DRINKING GAME: How about you take a chug an entire beer every time Brickner visits his comically disinterested parole officer? You'll have your own parole officer in about a month!
TRIVIA: Veteran t.v. director Jorge Montesi ("21 Jump Street", "The Outer Limits") has a role as a villainous promoter.