Total Film - 05/01/2008 3 stars out of 5 -- "[I]t happily wears its influences like a badge of honour....With bruising hand-to-hand fights..."
There's no eye-gouging, no biting, and no crotch shots allowed, but everything else goes in NEVER BACK DOWN, an invigorating high school sports/ultimate backyard fighting hybrid. Sean Faris plays Jake, the new kid (with a troubled past) who butts heads with rich alpha-male bully Ryan (Cam Gigandet, channeling Brad Pitt in FIGHT CLUB) at Miami High. Amber Heard plays Baja, the hot blonde who tricks Jake into attending a combination pool party/fight club held at Ryan's MTV cribs-style mansion. Jake doesn't want to fight at first but gets goaded into a blind rage and then gets his butt kicked. Enter Djimon Hounsou as the local fighting instructor who teaches Jake some self-discipline (and how to throw a cement block at the camera from 30 paces). Director Jeff Wadlow clearly harbors nostalgia for the halcyon days of TOP GUN and FLASHDANCE; the emo-rock-scored training montages flow as free as Baja's blonde hair during her frequent slow-motion walks down the hall. Jake even has a wisecracking slacker cameraman sidekick (Evan Peters) who uploads all the fights to the internet. Concerned parents will be glad to know there's not much drinking or kissing, and no matter how hard the punches and roundhouse kicks may be, everybody gets to keep their teeth. Special acting shout-out to Wyatt Smith as Jake's tennis-prodigy kid brother and Leslie Hope as their stressed-out single mom.