Against the Ropes
review by Cynthia Fuchs, 20 February 2004

Boxing promoter Jackie Kallen has an impressive record. In addition to succeeding in a field that is heavily dominated by men, she's also managed champions in six different weight classes.

It's too bad the move "inspired by" her life doesn't match her overachiever reputation. Whereas Kallen is an original and has a uniquely interesting story, Against the Ropes is tepid and routine. It also doesn't help that leading lady Meg Ryan seems really out of her element in Kallen's milieu.

Vainly struggling with a Midwestern accent that's never quite convincing, Ryan plays Kallen as a secretary who knows a lot more of training and promoting boxers than the baboonish men she works for.

Any credibility this film tries to establish is lost early on. In real life, Ryan may be a tough customer, but onscreen she just doesn't project the right sense of authority, and the actors playing the boxing world heavies are saddled with cartoonish roles that don't give them much room to work.

As the film progresses, Kallen moves up to being a potential player when Larocca (an appropriately menacing Tony Shalhoub), the tyrannical czar of the sport, sells her a losing fighter's contract for a measly dollar.

Kallen takes the challenge, but discovers that the fighter was so lousy because he was on drugs and hangs out with the dangerous folks who sell it. In fact, the chemicals have screwed him up so much that a seemingly ordinary thug named Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) beats the fighter worse than his last opponent.

Kallen immediately sees potential in the criminal and helps him turn from an outcast into a serious contender with the assistance of a no-nonsense veteran coach (the film's first-time director Charles S. Dutton). As Luther starts to pose a credible challenge to Larocca's current champ, Jackie starts hogging the spotlight and inadvertently starts alienating the fellow who's made her what she is.

All of this feels more like a hackneyed showbiz tale than a credible telling of a remarkable woman's life. If you like boxing or know a little something about the sport, prepare to have your intelligence insulted.

The final bout features just about every boxing movie cliché you can imagine. It's almost as if screenwriter Cheryl Edwards (Save the Last Dance) and Dutton were following a checklist to make sure they had included all of them. I may be just a film critic, but even I know a manager on the outs with a former client isn't going to be allowed into the ring to give him a much-needed pep talk. Even Rocky avoided that nonsense.

It doesn't help that the only remotely three-dimensional male characters in the film are Luther and a sympathetic sports reporter played by Timothy Daly. Without a sense of dynamics with these antagonists, the film never seems to develop any real narrative drive. It just sits there listlessly because the battle of the sexes presented here is monotonous.

I've been reading a bit about Kallen after seeing the film, and it's really troubling when the real person is so much more interesting than her fictional doppelganger. The real Kallen was a former journalist, married and was raising children while she was working. She also recently battled a heart attack and come back in an astonishing manner.

If you want to see a movie about women who have succeeded in the testosterone drenched world of athletics, I'll be happy to recommend some far move entertaining and believable films. Heart like a Wheel, Love and Basketball and Girlfight are all three films that take both the sports and the women who have transformed them seriously.

The latter is especially intriguing because that film's writer-director Karyn Kusama has a well-developed visual style, an authentic eye for detail and a drive to tell stories that don't follow the sports movie template. All of these things are missing from Against the Ropes.

Directed by:
Charles Dutton

Meg Ryan
Omar Epps
Skye McCole Bartusiak
Tony Shalhoub
Timothy Daly
Charles Dutton
Joseph Cortese
Kerry Washington

Written by:
Jackie Kallen
Cheryl Edwards

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult






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