Welcome to Friday Night Flix, where there’s never a need to leave the couch or put on pants. Every week I’ll recommend an under-the-radar movie currently available on one or more of the major streaming platforms. They won’t all be classics, but each selection is guaranteed to be 100% watchable or your money back.
The premise is simple enough: an undersized, unknown bare knuckle boxer can beat the shit out of even the beefiest heavyweights, an unusual ability upon which a hustler plans to make a mint. Pretty standard sports-themed buddy adventure if ever I saw one. The twist in the unimaginatively named Fight Night (Netflix, Hulu) is that said boxer happens to be female. Wait! Come back!
Agreed, this setup is positively ludicrous. It sounds like a Lifetime movie and not a very good one at that. It’s not that women can’t be boxers; obviously that’s not what I’m saying. It certainly wouldn’t take a very good female boxer to crush my flabby ass like a handful of Fritos. It probably wouldn’t even take one with two arms. But the idea of a 130-pound woman, no matter how preternaturally skilled, routinely knocking out trained male fighters twice her size is very hard to swallow, especially when presented as straight drama. HOWEVA, if ever a movie came reasonably close to selling that far-fetched idea, it’s this one.
That’s not to say this is a great movie, or even a great sports movie. It’s not. Fight Night clearly has a bit of a budget behind it but overall it’s pretty lackluster indie fare. It’s bogged down by trite dialogue, useless plot digressions, and an epilogue so sappy one imagines it narrowly edged out the Scooby Doo ending a la Wayne’s World. But Fight Night has one thing – just one – in its corner. (Metaphor!) Its greatest/only achievement is the casting of former U.S. Tae Kwon-do champ Rebecca Neuenswander as the unstoppable lady boxer. She’s completely untrained as an actress but she oozes intensity and, much more importantly, she can throw a monster hook.
Fight Night goes through a very standard progression, the same one followed by pretty much every tournament pilgrimage movie from The Color of Money to Kingpin to The Wizard: the unwieldy talent and the too-slick manager come together reluctantly but eventually become co-dependent. Along the way they experience harrowing setbacks, comedic breakdowns and ultimately, against all odds, triumph.
In Fight Night, all that hackneyed shit is as irritating as an ingrown hair. I hereby give you permission to skip it and watch only the fight scenes. It’s not like the movie is called Relationship Building Night. I could literally watch a 90-minute feature of nothing but Neuenswander kicking the shit out of people and I would be totally happy. Many actors, male and female, are unable to throw a believable punch, let alone carry themselves with the unmistakable grace of a professional fighter. Hillary Swank trained like crazy for Million Dollar Baby and she was nowhere near as convincing as Neuenswander. It’s a shame she’s focusing all her energies on her charity, but only in the super selfish sense that I would love to see her in more movies. On balance I’m sure her work with starving orphans is way more important that realizing my cinematic fantasies but still, ME ME ME.