Thursday, February 05, 2004

Preview Review: "Against the Ropes"

"Against the Ropes" opens nationwide on 2-20-2004.


A Film Review of "Against the Ropes"

Copyright 2004 Glenn Walker

I saw this, um, film last night and today I saw the first preview on television. This is perhaps the greatest exercise of creating an ad that literally contains all the good parts of a movie. When you see the preview, trust me, that’s it. Those thirty seconds are all you get.

Against the Ropes is the true-life story of successful female boxing manager Jackie Kallen. Although it should be noted that in all the promotional material it is called a ‘fictionalized drama inspired by the life of Jackie Kallen.’ The story part of Against the Ropes is written by Cheryl Edwards who previously had a screenplay produced as Save the Last Dance, which is suspiciously similar to this flick’s plot, in a underdog-take-all way. This fourth-rate "Faust" is sadly predictable and the dialogue is at best terribly cliched. Based on the final product this time around, Miss Edwards had better hope she’s not a one trick pony.

This major motion picture that screens like a second rate made-for cable was actually filmed in 2002 but was reputedly delayed from release because of the war in Iraq. Perhaps it was believed that folks going to the movies to escape the violent reality of the constant CNN war coverage wouldn’t want to see a violent boxing movie. What’s curious is that Against the Ropes isn’t all that violent nor does it really have all that much boxing. The boxing itself is shot at a distance at times and when close up, takes a tip from The Crow and shows results rather than action. We know there’s been damage but never see the impact.

The movie is horribly miscast from any angle. Meg Ryan as Jackie Kallen and Omar Epps as her diamond-in-the-rough boxer Luther Shaw, while highly capable practitioners of their craft, are uninteresting and unlikable leads. Epps does a typical good-hearted thug schtick throughout that may have been warming from, say, Paul Newman, but is unflattering here. Shaw’s uncredited sparring partner from South Africa is far more interesting and he only has one line and even less screentime than a blink. And Meg Ryan? Well, I’ll get to her in a moment.

The supporting players are serviceable. Joe Cortese as Kallen’s boss and the always-incredible Tony Shalhoub as boxing kingpin Sam LaRocca are perfect PG-13 Disney-style villains. Tim Daly does his Tim Daly-est as Kallen’s local sportscaster friend. Michael Buffer appears for a few seconds to deliver his trademarked line "Let’s get ready to ruuuuumble!" and collect a paycheck. Oh, wait, do I owe him money now for writing that? Jackie Kallen herself even appears briefly as a reporter whose question causes a speed bump in the Kallen and Shaw relationship.

Charles S. Dutton co-stars as Felix Reynolds, a legendary trainer Kallen pulls out of retirement to help her mold her wannabe champion boxer. Unlike the folks with their names above the title, Dutton is interesting and one of the pleasures of the film. His interaction with Ryan and Epps adds to them more depth than they do on their own. Against the Ropes is also directed by Dutton. Although he does an adequate job, better for Lifetime than HBO or the big screen, but an adequate job.

Meg Ryan takes a lot of heat for being the nice girl, the sweet girl, the girl next door, Tom Hanks’ sweetheart, America’s sweetheart. It’s a good image but it’s typecasting just the same. One would have thought that the orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally might have changed that, but, nope, Meg’s just too gosh darn cute. When she smiles and scrunches up her nose you just can’t help but smile and go ‘awww.’

But the nose scrunching may in fact be part of the image problem. Comedienne Nicole Sullivan of Fox’s "MadTV" does a dead on imitation of Meg Ryan and makes the nose scrunching the prime joke. As the target of ridicule Meg probably sought to change her image. With Against the Ropes she decided to go the same route that American sweetheart Julia Roberts went with Erin Brockovich. She would toughen her look with trailer trash flair, add some rough edges and show a side of herself not seen before. Unfortunately it was wildly successful for Julia, but not for Meg.

Meg Ryan is just not believable as trashy. She may look the look but once she smiles the illusion is just that, an illusion. She’s a little girl playing dress up and you go ‘awww.’ Ryan also puts on a hideous Boston-ish, New York-ish hybrid accent, which is bizarre because apparently the story happens in the midwest. Maybe she was imitating kallen herself who perhaps affects an odd accent. One can never tell. The accent mercifully disappears ten minutes into the film, but when it returns toward the end - it is a completely different accent!

There are hints at romance with Daly and also jealousy with Epps but these are never played up. One could say this was a true story and perhaps no romance occurred but again, this is a ‘fictionalized drama’ so why not a romance? It might have perked up an otherwise flat story. I can’t help but think of Patch Adams starring Robin Williams and also a true story film where the title character’s girlfriend was killed by a serial killer, when in reality the real man was gay and never encountered any murderers of any kind in his life. Oh, that Hollywood magic!

That’s what Against the Ropes needs, some magic to save this film. A serial killer, an unpredictable plot, some fresh dialogue, heck, even some acting from the leads could have saved this dreck. Sadly, the only people ‘against the ropes’ here are in the audience.

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