Against the Ropes (1/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

I donít just dislike boxing; I loathe it. Boxing is nothing more than an anachronistic residue of Roman Gladiatorial contests. Itís woefully corrupt. It terribly exploits the athletes, who generally wind up with serious brain damage and not much of the money. Not enough? Itís inherently immoral.

If Meg Ryan (Jackie Kallen) is trying to resurrect her reputation after plunging into the depths of degradation in In The Cut, she chose the wrong instrumentality. Although this is loosely based on the true story of Jackie Kallen (who has a bit part as a female reporter and is listed as an ďAssociate ProducerĒ) who was a woman handling fighters in a male-dominated and thoroughly corrupt world, itís far more fiction than fact. Alas, Hollywood has turned her story into a cartoon, a bad cartoon.

When a film is this bad itís hard to determine whether itís because of bad acting, bad directing (Charles S. Dutton, who also plays Felix Reynolds, trainer of Jackieís fighter, Luther Shaw, played by Omar Epps) or a puerile script (Cheryl Edwards).  While this film has all of the above, in spades, letís not belittle horrible casting (Avy Kaufman). Not only is the former Americaís Sweetheart Ryan woefully miscast as a hard boiled woman in the boxing game, Tony Shalhoub, who plays Sam LaRocca, a mobster who runs the local boxing game, is laughable heís so inept.

Itís not all bad, although itís close. Tim Daly, best known for his role as Joe Hackett on the sitcom Wings, does a good job as Gavin Reese, a local sportscaster who gets shafted by Jackie. Epps and Dutton give good performances. Letís see, is there anything else nice I can say about this? Give me a few years to think about it.

As far as I'm concerned, boxing movies are always terrible, with the exception of The Harder They Fall (1956), but, then, that did have the advantage of Humphrey Bogart (his last film) and Rod Steiger, based on a novel by Budd Shulberg, and being virulently anti-boxing. Against the Ropes has nothing like that in its favor. Against the Ropes follows standard Hollywood format by showing boxing matches with such vivid sound effects that it sounds like an atomic blast each time someone gets hit with a left jab. Nobody could stand up against even one blow that sounds so devastating.

Hollywood has a miserable track record in translating sports stories to film, but nowhere is it worse than in boxing movies. Except for The Harder They Fall, all the boxing movies Iíve had the misfortune to sit through have glorified the sport. Letís face it; this is a sport where the audience is watching one man try to physically destroy another man. Could there be anything in our modern society much more depraved? Yet, in films like the Rocky series and most of the others, thereís Hollywood celebrating one man beating up another, and this one is no exception.

This film shows Jackieís quest to get a bout for Luther as being, oh, so easy. Instead of showing the struggle she surely had to go through to get a match for her fighter, it shows maybe one rejection, then she basically blackmails someone to give Luther a match and after that itís all roses. The story of Jackie Kallen that would interest me and set her apart would be how she established her bona fides, but the script pretty much passes over that with what amounts to a wink and a nod. If it was really this easy, thereís not much of a story here.

Letís cut to the chase. How stupid is this film? Take this sequence as an example. Jackieís fighter, Luther, is getting the stuff kicked out of him in the ring, see, and Jackieís not in his corner because of a lot of things that happened, see. But she has snuck into the arena and is Ďway up in the rafters, see, and watches as heís getting the stuffing kicked out of him, see, so she fights her way through the crowd and crawls up into the ring between rounds, and, like John Wayne leading the Cavalry to save the outpost at the last minute, marches over to Luther, whoís almost comatose heís being so badly beaten up, grabs his face in her hands and yells at him, ďYou can beat this guy. Go out there and knock him out!Ē This doesnít exactly bring Knute Rockneís halftime orations (ďGo out there and win one for the Gipper!Ē) swimmingly to mind. Even so, thatís all poor olí Luther needed. Apparently he didnít know he ďcould beat this guyĒ until beautiful Jackie tells him so. But after she opens his eyes with this earth-shaking message, he proceeds to go right out there and knock the other guy out. If you find this insipid snippet inspiring, get out your wallet and fork over the bucks to see this because this is your cup of tea. If you do, however, you should be warned to bring a barf bag to get you through the moronic ending.

The shame of this is that Jackie Kallenís story is compelling. An attractive woman who takes on the male-dominated, horribly corrupt boxing game and succeeds! She deserves better.

February 17, 2004

Tony Medley