Two kinds of pain come with "Fighting," a silly but surprisingly visceral action flick set in the world of bare-knuckle boxing. The beatings on screen are brutal enough to make you clutch your kidneys, while the excruciatingly bad dialogue may have you plugging your ears.
The action centers on Shawn MacArthur ( Channing Tatum, "Stop-Loss"), a beefy Alabama boy adrift in New York City. While selling counterfeit goods on the street, Shawn delivers a beat-down to a couple of mugs and catches the eye of small-time hustler Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard). "Midnight Cowboy" this isn't, but Harvey does pimp Shawn out to the gangsters, Wall Streeters and Koreatown moguls, among other cartoon characters, who arrange human cockfights.
As formulaic as it sounds, "Fighting" constantly knocks its audience off balance. There's no fancy kung-fu here: Opponents lunge for each other with animal gracelessness, nostrils open, fear on their faces. As scene after scene spirals into unexpected chaos, the intensity can be almost unbearable.
But when the fists stop flying and the mouths open, "Fighting" becomes nearly unwatchable. The seemingly improvised conversations between Shawn and a pretty cocktail waitress (Zulay Henao) range from banal pleasantries to weird gibberish. Only Howard, whose eyes dance with intelligence, and Brian White ("Stomp the Yard"), who plays a villainous figure from Shawn's past, escape humiliation.
"Fighting" comes from Dito Montiel ("A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints," a hit at Sundance in 2006). The term writer-director suits Montiel only loosely: He excitedly points and shoots, seemingly working from little more than an index card of ideas. (And he has some doozies, such as a fight staged in an all-lesbian bodega.) As a result, "Fighting" feels like one of Shawn's wild right hooks: When it connects, you won't forget it.
PLOT A small-town boy and a big-city hustler team up to make money in New York's undergound brawling circuit.
CAST Terrence Howard, Channing Tatum, Zulay Henao, Brian White.
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE White-knuckle action and bruisingly bad dialogue make for an uneven but wildly entertaining fight flick. (violence, language, brief sexuality)