|Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions|
|The KO Picture Show|
|Presents. . .|
|Against The Ropes (2004)
"When Harry Met Sally's Slutty Friend Jackie. . . ."
One of the toughest lines to walk in a movie about someone beating the odds or shunning the "norm", breaking the glass ceiling, pioneering, etc., is that line between being an "underdog" or just being annoying. And the "underdog" theme is prevalent in sports movies. While I'm not a fan of it, people love the movie "Rudy". Something about that little leprechaun just tugs at people's heartstrings and has them screaming, "RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!" by the end. It may not be my cup of tea, but it seems to effectively portray, using dramatic license, the underdog story of Daniel E. "Rudy" Ruettiger. Funny thing, that dramatic licensing... it's often what maintains the line between "underdog" and "annoying". Some people say that the real Rudy wasn't all that endearing. But the filmmakers doctored up the story, put future-hobbit Sean Astin in the lead role, and, BAM!, the crowd is screaming his name in the theater. The point is, the softened edges and actor's performance made "Rudy" loveable, someone you'd WANT to root for. Rudy is at the "successful underdog story" end of the spectrum. At the other end of that spectrum, appearing as a mere dot to "Rudy", is this week's movie, a "fictional story" inspired by the life of Jackie Kallen called "Against The Ropes".
Jackie Kallen (Ryan) has been around the sport of boxing all her life. Her love of the game has grown stronger with age, despite the limited number of opportunities for women in the sport. In truth, outside of "Round Card Girl", women are greeted with outright hostility by the men in this movie. Jackie is willing to weather their chauvinistic ways to be near the action. During one late night, post-fight session with the man-pigs that inhabit this movie, she finally stands up for herself. She disagrees with a powerful promoter named Sam LaRocca (played by the usually dependable Tony Shaloub) regarding the future prospects of one of his fighters, and he teasingly says she can have the rights to him for $1. She takes him up on it, and the plucky Jackie is on her way!
Does the description above have you pumped?! Are you currently singing the theme to "Laverne And Shirley" in your head?
Give us any chance, we'll take it!
Read us any rule, we'll break it!
We're gonna make our dreams come true!
DOIN' IT OUR WAY!!
WOOOOO! I am, er. . she is, uh, woman. . hear her roar!
Well forget it. The Jackie Kallen portrayed in this movie by Meg Ryan will NOT have you chanting her name at the end. "Sassy" is replaced with sneering and domineering. I don't know if it's an accurate portrayal, but the Kallen in this story is dressed as a turbo slut and voiced with an accent just this side of nails on a chalkboard. I've met some Clevelanders and the accent rendered by both Ryan and Shaloub in this movie is more akin to people imitating "Fargo" around the watercooler than a native Ohioan (Ohionese? Ohiower?).
And while the performances are the undisputed nadir of this film, there's plenty more aspects to blame for this bad experience. Some of the scenes are so ridiculous, they border on camp. When Jackie goes to look for her $1 boxer, only to find that he's a hopeless and desperate crackhead (which, by the way, proves her wrong in her life-defining argument with the promoter), she's saved from the junkie's clutches by Luther Shaw (Epps). Shaw dispatches Jackie's attackers with moves that are more "Steven Segal" than "Tommy Hearns". Not that I've ever been in a fistfight with a crackhead, but I imagine there's a little more wrestling around on the ground. Once Luther Shaw shows up, these guys are zipping around the room on wires like "Flying Crackie, Hidden Basehead"!
At any rate, Jackie is impressed with Shaw and wants to represent him. So she gets the stock wise old trainer (Dutton), and they're off. Win some fights. Beat the odds. Get corrupted by stardom. We've seen it all before. You know itís all going to work out in the end. Luther will be champion and Jackie will earn the begrudging respect of her male counterparts (there's even a "slow clap"! I'm not making this stuff up!). She doesn't become the better of the prejudiced men of boxing, she just becomes more obnoxious than they are. And that doesn't make her endearing. So why would you want to watch a whole movie about her?
The Fightin' - 1 -2 - 3 - 4
Omar Epps is in great shape, but he doesn't move around the ring convincingly. Anyone that flat-footed, with their legs that spread out would be kissing canvas on a nightly basis. The locations look great, and Dutton pulls off the "sage trainer" roll with ease. The low score for this one is due to the "Big Fight Finale". Luther Shaw has made it to the championship fight, but he's struggling. He and Jackie have had a falling out, but you just know she's going to show up in his corner to root him on. That's what would have made sense. She shows up in the corner, says something inspiring, and he goes on to win the championship. Corny, but effective. But remember, Jackie Kallen is "SASSY"! So instead of sneaking into Shaw's corner, she walks down the aisle towards the ring, climbs up the stairs, climbs through the ropes, and WALKS ACROSS THE RING TO LUTHER'S CORNER (in slo-mo, of course). She grabs him by the head and urges him on to victory.
You know what? I don't care how "SASSY" you are. . if you tried to climb into the ring in between rounds during a championship fight, security would have you pummeled and in a squad car before the bell for the next round sounded.
Overall Rating - 1 - 2
I may be biased, but I think boxing has more dramatic potential than any other sports genre. The game is rich in history and the stories and people that go along with it, fictional or non-, are inherently compelling. There's just something about that building crescendo on the way to the "Big Fight" finale! All the training's been done! All the fear, all the doubt! And finally they step into that ring and, BAM! It's too exciting for me to put into words! It's why I love the sport, and, by extension, some of the movies about it. And I think that's part of the message that they're trying to convey in "Against The Ropes". Unfortunately just "loving the sport" doesn't lend itself to dramatic narratives. I can appreciate the odds that the real Jackie Kallen faced in real life on her way to becoming one of the most influential women in the sport, but is "The Jackie Kallen Story" worth telling on screen? If she's this annoying in real life, I'd have to reply with a resounding, NO!
|Starring: Meg Ryan,
Omar Epps, Charles S. Dutton
|"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"|