When I walk into a movie called "Fighting," I expect, well, fighting. It has to do with truth in advertising. When you buy a Coke, you don't want to crack it open and taste ginger ale, nor do you go to a Pixar film and expect to see a horror movie. When I go to a movie centering on a fighter, I want fights. I want to see a flurry of flying fists, I want to see someone beaten to a pulp, I didn't get that here. Yes, there are a couple of fights, but nothing terribly impressive, and they're mostly cut to cover up lack of fighting skills (ironic, no?) on the actors' parts. While it was a step up from the similar Never Back Down, that does not really say all that much.
At the center of Fighting is Shawn (Channing Tatum), an Alabama boy living in New York City, struggling to make ends meet selling shoddy knockoff books and DVDs. One day, a couple of thugs rob him on the street, forcing him to show off his, ummm, fighting skills. Watching safely from a distance is Harvey (Terrence Howard), a soft spoken hustler from Chicago. He sees some skills on display when Shawn's fists are connecting with other people's faces. He approaches the young man with a proposition: "would you like to fight if it will make you a lot of money?" Or something along those lines. In any the case, the answer turned out to be, of course, "Yes," and so begins a beautiful friendship.
Everybody seems to know who Harvey is, despite his seemingly passive approach to being an underground fight promoter. He easily gets fights set up for Shawn, even though Shawn is a new face on the scene. These fights bring Shawn into contact with a whole new group of people, not to mention the opportunity to hang out in an exclusive night club populated with the folks who promote and bet on the fights . It is here that the romantic subplot is introduced.
One night at the club, Shawn meets Zulay (Zulay Henao), a waitress working the floor. He approaches her like a good Southern boy, real polite like. This relationship develops slowly and is one of the better aspects of the film. There is a note of reality threaded into their initial meetings, including a discussion of fate and the need to take it into your own hands. This part of the story also allows for some fun with Zulay's overprotective grandmother, a role that seems over the top, but could probably have been ripped right from someone's own experiences.