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The KO Picture Show
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"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"
The Great White Hype (1996)

Are racial distinctions funny? Between this and 'White Men Can't Jump', it seems like Ron Shelton thinks they're friggin' hilarious!

When I sat down to write this review I wasn’t sure if this movie, The Great White Hype, would be considered a satire or a parody of the boxing industry. In truth, I really didn’t know the difference between the two. So, for our mutual benefit, here are the entries found in the online version of the
American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for “satire” and “parody”:

satire (NOUN) - 1a. A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit. b. The branch of literature constituting such works. See synonyms at caricature. 2. Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.

parody (NOUN) - 1a. A literary or artistic work that imitates the characteristic style of an author or a work for comic effect or ridicule. See synonyms at caricature. b. The genre of literature comprising such works. 2. Something so bad as to be equivalent to intentional mockery; a travesty: The trial was a parody of justice.

Well, that certainly cleared things up, right?!? Both cited “caricature” as a synonym, so let’s use that, being that I know the definition and I think it’s applicable here. Everything about this Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Boomerang) directed, Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump) written picture is a caricature, an exaggeration. The Don King-esque Reverend Fred Sultan (Jackson) is at a crossroads with his main meal ticket, heavyweight champ James “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Wayans). Roper has, in a very Mike Tyson-like fashion, dominated the division for so long that people are beginning to lose interest. And while Roper wants to continue fighting the best opponents available, The Sultan is more interested in a financial windfall. And the only way he knows that can be guaranteed is to match up the champ with a proven moneymaker: a white challenger. Which white challenger? ANY white challenger.

So, the Sultan begins the hunt for a credible Caucasian. With the help of his cronies, which include PR man Sol (Jon Lovitz), hotel owner Peter Prince (Corbin Bernsen), one of the sanctioning body honchos Julio Escobar (Cheech Marin), and head assistant Artemis (Rocky Carroll), they quickly come to the conclusion that there are no good white heavyweights. So they decide to create one. Julio Escobar’s assistant Bambi (Salli Richardson) reminds them all that while James Roper is undefeated as a professional, he had lost as an amateur, and to a white guy no less; Terry Conklin (Berg). Unfortunately, Conklin has given up boxing completely and has dedicated his life to Rock and Roll. The Sultan and his team of advisors manage to track him down, and with some ego petting and offers of serious cash, they manage to convince Conklin that not only should he come back, but that he can beat Roper. Now that they’ve hyped up the man himself, they face the task of hyping this unranked, zero-pro experience, but undeniably white fighter to the public.

Following all of these machinations doggedly are 2 interested parties. First is the number one challenger, Marvin Shabazz (Michael Jace), and his handler-promoter-"yes" man, Hassan El Ruk’n (‘In Living Color’-alum Jamie Foxx, who steals every scene that he’s in). Shabazz unquestionably deserves the next shot at Roper, but doesn’t fulfill The Sultan’s racial money making scheme, so he’s pushed aside. Also persuing the Sultan is a freelance documentarian, Mitchell Kane (Goldblum), who’s trying to expose The Sultan’s shady business dealings. Kane's hunt for "the truth" gets him involved with The Sultan in more ways than expected.

Even with the rather serious subject matter of racism and the financial and emotional manipulations inherent in boxing today that are portrayed, this is a very silly movie with very little that should be taken to heart. The unbelievalby evil, but undeniably charismatic Sultan is played to perfection by Samuel L. Jackson. His ability to snap his booming voice and megawatt smile into a low growl and scowl is very entertaining. Also giving a terrific performance is Jon Lovitz as PR man Sol. Lovitz has made a career as a 'one-character' character actor; self-important, but definitely not getting the respect he feels he deserves. It's a niche that he's been perfecting since Saturday Night Live, to great affect. And as I mentioned earlier, Jamie Foxx is terrific as the top contender's manager. His quick-to-retreat tough guy schtick is perfect next to the dead serious Shabazz. This is a great comedic ensemble cast being directed by a great comedic director in Reginald Hudlin.


The Fightin' - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
The actual boxing scenes were few and far between. I will say that Damon Wayans and Peter Berg don't make very convincing heavyweights; they looked like Super Middleweights at best. But there were scenes that seemed taken right out of real life. Wayan's post-fight interviews were as unintelligle and pointless as the real thing. And Jackson's exultations as The Sultan could have been taken verbatim from some of Don King's best screeds. This was more about the behind the scenes world than between the ropes. Also of note are the ring entrances of both Conklin and Roper. Conklin is played in by a fairly bland Brian Setzer, but Roper's entrance is charged with an escort from Method Man himself. And while the chances of 2 established musical stars showing up to do a minute worth of intro work is highly unlikely, it was definitely cool. Maybe Don King or Bob Arum should look into doing that for their future fights.


Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
As I said before, this was pure comedy done by comedic actors and led by a terrific comedic director in Reginald Hudlin (House Party and Boomerang are 2 favorites, can you tell?). The problem is, it's not the kind of comedy we're used to from writer/director Ron Shelton. The comedic elements of boxing and all of it's dirty laundry are obvious and are played up expertly by the cast. But they're all just caricatures of real people (see how I came full circle on that one?). And the human element that was so evident in Shelton's other comedies is completely absent. There's no Crash Davis, Nuke LaLoosh, Billy Hoyle, or Sidney Deane here. I don't know if that can be chalked up to Shelton's writing or Hudlin's directing this time out. The result is a movie that is at times hilariously funny, but immediately dismissable after seeing. Nothing sticks with you afterwards. Still worth a look for boxing fans and fans of silly comedy.

Rob Tillisch
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Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg, Damon Wayans