Channing Tatum hits hard in Fighting, so protect your pretty face.

Ayo! Scott doesn't fight for money, he scraps for pride and respect, like the time he had to slap Brooklyn's own "Iron Mike" Tyson silly outside Junior's for disgracing their beloved borough in and out of the ring (now Tyson bows his head when Ayo! calls him "Marshmallow Mike"). Civic pride and pugilistic principles only begin to explain why Ayo! loves Fighting, Dito Montiel's new movie about a homeless 'Bama brawler (Channing Tatum) who finds his way in NYC's streetfighting scene...

Now, before you roll your eyes (and don't you ever dare do that to Ayo!—he'll stab your brain with your nose bone), Fighting isn't a sickeningly slick "urban" MMA flick a la Never Back Down, despite what commercials might lead you to believe. Montiel, who grew up on the once mean streets of Astoria, Queens and wrote a book about it that later became his fine film A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, really knows New York (old and new). He's well acquainted with its characters, like Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard), the distrusting small-fry scam artist loser from Chicago who discovers the pretty white fighter, Shawn MacArthur, and mentors/manages/latches onto him in the hope that he might finally win for a change. Montiel's familiarity with the characters, the events and the environment (he films on location rather than rumble in "the Bronx" on a Canadian back lot) gives a tremendous amount of depth and authenticity to the flick. So do the fight scenes, which have a respectable raw quality to them.

Tatum, who's best known for Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets, dance-themed diarrhea in the vein of Never Back Down, delivers the sort of quality, nuanced performance that makes Ayo! hate him less. For every Fighting, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints or Stop-Loss he does, it's possible to imagine the 28-year-old actor working at 30 (and not on a stage with a pole). Howard records a KO as well, but the film's hands-down winner is Altagracia Guzman, who plays the grandmother of MacArthur's love interest, Zulay Velez (Zulay Henao), and floods their spot in the projects with drama.

Fighting's weakness, if Ayo! were to jab at it, is that its plot points—MacArthur's dysfunctional relationship with his father back home, his refusal to throw a fight despite his need for a payday and eventual showdown with an old nemesis from Birmingham—aren't as unique and interesting as the New York insider peculiarities that Montiel laces the film with. Fortunately, Montiel's presence and grasp of the city hits hard, like a wild-eyed nutty hobo on the F train, and Fighting ultimately throws a knockout punch (just like Ayo! will when he sees that wild-eyed nutty muthafucka again). Check out the trailer and see if it has a fighting chance with you.