Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions
The KO Picture Show
Presents. . .
Undefeated (2003)
"I imagine the pitch meeting for this one went something like this:
'John Leguizamo has abdominal muscles. Let's make a movie about them.'."
The road from "stand-up comic" to "big-time movie star" is littered with corpses. Many comics find it hard to be taken seriously when you've always had people laugh at you for a living. Some have started on the small screen with sitcoms or variety show, then moved up to comedic parts in movies; Tim Allen, Ellen DeGeneres, Kevin James, Roseanne Barr, Ray Romano, and, the most successful one, Jim Carrey. The important thing to remember is that these folks stuck with what got them there: making the audience laugh. But when they take a shot at more dramatic parts, more often than not, they fail. Who's to blame for this? The audience? Are we too shallow to see these funny men and women as real people? Are the performers and their advisors at fault for trying something that they don't have the talent to pull off convincingly? Is it just a case of bad material? It's hard to say. There are too many people to blame in most cases. Unfortunately, that's not the case for this week's movie "Undefeated".

Directed, Written, and Starring John Leguizamo. Did I detect a shudder from the Leguizamo-detractors? I have to fess up; I can only stand the self-professed "Freak" in small doses. I really enjoyed his performance in "Spawn" (as the evil clown courier from hell) and was truly impressed with him as the lispy sloth named Sid in "Ice Age". And he was born for his role as Toulouse-Lautrec in "Moulin Rouge". As comic relief or in wasabi-sized portions, John Leguizamo is perfect. His one-man-shows are a little more Leguizamo than I can handle though. I'm good for one frantic skit and then I'm tapped. So maybe it was inevitable that I wouldn't like "Undefeated".

Lex Vargas (Leguizamo) is a boxer from Spanish Harlem with all the potential in the world. He's just won the PAL championship in New York and it's his time to go pro.

That's it. That's all you need to know. This brief set-up is the basis for so much melodrama that it's hard to even decipher what the rest of the movie is supposed to be about. Just off the top of my head I can count a half-dozen different boxing movie clichés that this movie picked up and then dropped at different times, any of which would have made a more inspiring narrative than the platitude stew served up here: The "machismo" issue with Latin fighters, fighting until they're dead. The older brother who didn't make it in boxing and fears for little brother's safety and dignity; The older brother who's killed and the little brother who's haunted by his death. Being torn between "your boys" and the promoters; staying true to your roots or selling out. The idea that "women weaken legs" and whether or not abstinence makes for better boxers. Corruption in boxing and the allure of taking a dive. Each one of these themes is given lip service in this 90-minute drama, but none of them are fleshed out. The result is a movie without a voice. Leguizamo tried to pack a mini-series worth of story into an hour and a half and it crumpled beneath it's own ambition.

The more specific problems fall squarely in Mr. Leguizamo's lap. The man has made a living off of frenetic, almost stream-of-consciousness-type comedy. Yet here he's trying to stone-face his way through his performance. The goofy side surfaces on occassion (with these few and far between moments being the highlights of the movie), but for the most part he plays Lex Vargas as serious as a heart attack. Fans of "Spic-O-Rama" wouldn't even recognize him in Marlon Brando-mode here. And fans of boxing movies or sports movies in general would immediately see what a muddled mess of clichés this is and would see little value or entertainment in a rehash. So, the question begs to be asked; who was this movie for?

The Fightin'! -
1 - 2 - 3 -
4 - 5 -
Back to The KO Picture Show
Main Page!
I have to give credit where credit is due. First, Leguizamo got himself in great shape. If the role weren’t written by John for himself, I'd say they did a great job of casting. But I'm guessing the abs-and-tattoo show that is "Undefeated" was a calculated venture. He went for the realistic weight class of "Welterweight" instead of trying to pump up to "Middleweight", which I think would have been a stretch. And a great deal of credit has to go to Leguizamo for getting the real-deal boxing and sportscasters on board. Seeing Jim Lampley for HBO Boxing and hearing Mike and the Mad Dog talking about Lex Vargas on the radio definitely gave the boxing action some credibility.

The action in the ring was just average. They resisted the urge to "slap-up" the punches, but they also did a poor job of synching up the sound effects with the action. There were a couple of flurries that didn't quite add up. And apparently Lex Vargas has some sort of Teflon skin, because he leaves the ring with minimal damage to his face. Just a trickle of blood by the eye and a sore hand. No lumps or black eyes. Lucky guy.

The bottom line is, this was a vanity project for John Leguizamo. He chose to control every aspect of this production and pointed the camera almost exclusively at himself. The inclusion of supporting female star Vanessa Ferlito on the poster art seems almost like a concession, as she has about as much impact on the narrative as any of the other supporting characters. This is obviously the John Leguizamo Show. And the result was a movie that was a mile wide and an inch deep. I honestly think Mr. Leguizamo has a long movie career ahead of him. He's already compiled an impressive number of credits. And I think that he has a flair for the dramatic that many of his stand-up counterparts long for. His performance in the Spike Lee-directed "Summer of Sam" was powerful and real, and I give him credit for that. But my advice for future self-produced projects would be to stick to comedy. Leave writing the melodrama to someone else. We want "Mambo Mouth", not "Macbeth".

Rob Tillisch
Overall Rating -
1 - 2 -
Starring: John Leguizamo
"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"