It's called "Fighting," and its unpolished, messy fracases are among the film's highlights. But there's much more to it than that: more than the easily sold idea of Channing Tatum as Shawn, a down-on-his-luck drifter, drawn by two-bit hustler Harvey (Terrence Howard) into New York's underground fighting scene; more than Shawn's romance with struggling single mother Zulay (Zulay Henao).
The word that best expresses the film is "vivid."
It feels like a guided tour of the city's in-your-face underbelly, loaded with detail that only a native with an artist's eye could reveal. Director and co-writer Dito Montiel's previous effort, Sundance sensation "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" (also starring Tatum), similarly depicted an unglamorous New York so real you could smell it -- for better or worse. The casting of extras, location scouting and production design all display care not common to the genre.
As to the fighting in "Fighting" -- it continues the exciting trend of realistic combat that helped make "Taken" a surprise hit, but it goes much further. Some throwdowns look and feel like street brawls, choreographed to look unchoreographed: ugly, rough and thrillingly unpredictable.
The heart of the movie, though, is the "Midnight Cowboy"-esque relationship between Shawn and Harvey. Tatum's two-fisted ingenue has clarity, drive and dangerous physicality. As Harvey, Howard shares with the viewer a daily litany of small humiliations, fortunately balanced by the character's ability to keep dreaming and pushing all the disappointments aside with street-smart humor.