Lawrence Toppman

‘The Fight Within’ aims at believers but hits nonbelievers, too

Two brothers (Mike Taylor, left, and John Major Davis) disagree about their future in MMA fighting in “The Fight Within."
Two brothers (Mike Taylor, left, and John Major Davis) disagree about their future in MMA fighting in “The Fight Within."

Few Christian-themed movies get screened for reviews nowadays, and I understand why: Both producers and critics can write them off as niche movies for a target audience that doesn’t care what mainstream media say.

But questions of faith remain among the most important we can ask, and religious belief plays a role (like it or not) in the lives of even the unbelievers. So when a filmmaker seems to wrestle seriously with that topic, I listen. In the case of “The Fight Within,” I’m glad I did.

Some of it is indeed directed toward Christians: a minister’s long and redundant come-to-Jesus speech, the repeated homilies from someone who is either a wise old homeless man (Wesley Williams) or, perhaps, an angel. The film has long since made its points by the last of these, and I’d like to think Christian audiences don’t need to be hit over the head with divine reassurances.

But the essence of the movie might grip anybody. Logan Chandler (John Major Davis) has been trained by his dad, a mixed martial arts champ, to uphold the family’s glory. When he rebels, and his father has a fatal heart attack, Logan goes to law school and turns the family gym over to brother Mason (Mike Taylor, an MMA veteran who choreographed the fight scenes). There Logan meets Emma (Lelia Symington), who puts God first but has room in her life for a boyfriend.

Mason’s protegé, the talented but unstable Hayden (Matt Leddo), learns he can earn $10,000 by turning pro – if Logan will unretire and fight him. So he taunts and torments Logan and Emma to provoke the inevitable showdown. (It looked like a real cage match to me, though I know little about MMA fights.)

Director Michael William Gordon and writer Jim Davis give us a hopeful feeling about Logan without insisting on solving all his problems – or insisting that God will solve them for him. He’s drawn to Emma but realizes she wants to spend the foreseeable future after graduation as an African missionary, something he has no desire to be. He longs for God’s love but feels both unworthy and unsure he’ll get it. Even if he wins the big match, he’ll have to decide again and again whether to keep fighting.

He repeatedly asks whether God can love a fighter, someone who has made a name – if not yet a living – by pummeling others and teaching students to do so. The old man reminds him that the Bible is full of worthy warriors: Joshua, David and many more. But as the title suggests, God wants us all to fight against fear, self-doubt and hatred. Whether you believe in a deity or not, you’re going to face those battles all your life.

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The Fight Within

Cast: John Major Davis, Lelia Symington, Mike Taylor, Matt Leddo.

Director: Michael William Gordon.

Length: 93 minutes.

Rating: PG-13 (some sports violence and brief menace).