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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Against the Ropes

MOVIE REVIEWS

AGAINST THE ROPES  (2004)

Starring Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Charles S. Dutton, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly, Joe Cortese, Kerry Washington, Sean Bell, Dean McDermott, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Juan Hernandez, Holt McCallany, Tory Kittles, Gene Mack, Beau Starr, Jared Durand, Diego Fuentes and Angelo Tucci.

Screenplay by Cheryl Edwards.

Directed by Charles S. Dutton.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures.  111 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

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Against the Ropes

When I was in college, I had a fiction professor who said over and over to the class, “the truth is no excuse.”   Anytime some student writer would try to cover up some questionable plot points by pulling out that old chestnut, “but it really happened,” the professor would pull out this statement like a gun.  Just because something really happened, he’d always explain to the flustered undergraduate, doesn’t mean that it can work as a piece of fiction. 

Because of having this pounded into me, I’ve always been rather leery of the term “based on a true story.”  What does that mean?  Are we supposed to enjoy it more just because some variation of a life (usually a loose variation, too.)  The bar on true stories has been raised even higher with the spectacular array of good documentaries that have been released in recent years.  Because they are journalistic looks at living that can take in all the unlikely experiences that we just wouldn't buy in a fictional film.

Well, Against the Ropes is very vocal about the fact that it is “based on the true story of Jackie Kallen.”  Honestly, before this movie, I’d never heard of Jackie, nor had anyone I’ve discussed it with, even though the movie makes it seem like she became something of a media darling.  Which brings up an entirely new level of confusion, how is a true story that most people have never heard any different than fiction to the average viewer?  However, I’m no fan of boxing, so maybe Jackie did revolutionize the sport and have a fascinating, different life.

I doubt that different life was like this film portrays it, though.  Or if it is, she lived in just about every clichéd boxing film that has been made in the last fifty years, with a special accent on Rocky.  All the standards of the boxing films are slavishly pulled out.  A young child grows up with her father, who is a boxing trainer, in the gym.  Young Jackie becomes a student of the game (though her father ridicules her knowledge.)  She loves the ring though, and wants to grow up in the business.  However, when she grows up into Meg Ryan, because she is a woman, the only opportunity she ever gets is as the gopher for a boorish boxing promoter (Joe Cortese).  Though she knows more than her boss, or the mobbed up fight manager named La Rocca (Tony Shalhoub), she is stuck making them coffee. 

She wants to become an underdog promoter.  Even though the evil boy’s club establishment of the boxing world, as personified by La Rocca is putting road blocks in her way, Jackie uses her pluck, her brains, her charm and her knowledge of the sport to succeed.  Unfortunately, the first boxer she signs up is a crack addict.  When visiting him, she sees Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), a pumped up but angry hoodlum with a mean right hook.  She goes to a crusty old time trainer (Charles S. Dutton, who is not only acting below his stature, but also somehow got tricked into directing this) to change the street fighter into a prizefighter.  They fight the odds and with the talent of their scrappy crew and the support of a friendly (and cute) local boxing reporter (Tim Daly), they start winning fights.

Of course when they start winning, Jackie gets dazzled by the spotlight and loses herself in her newfound stardom.  She starts doing anything to stay in the spotlight, in the process letting down her friends and supporters.  It finally comes to a head when Luther decides she is out for herself and says he will never fight for her again.  This whole transformation seems really rushed, it seems like people here are doing things just to push the story along, not behaving as people would in a "true story." 

The finale makes simply no sense.  Since Jackie has disenchanted her boxer, she decides to go to her nemesis La Rocca to sell him Shaw’s contract.  Even though the man has been quite blatant about the fact that he will do anything to screw her over, Jackie trusts him to take care of Luther and lead him to the championship.  La Rocca does sign on, but in his typically underhanded way he sets up the fight a few weeks so that Shaw has no time to train.  He tells the champ to destroy Shaw, which may be what a spectacular spiteful character like La Rocca is made out to be would do as a screw you to Jackie.  However, this overlooks the fact that La Rocca will lose a whole lot of money that he has just invested in this new fighter if he humiliates Shaw right off the bat. 

Jackie knows what is happening and tries to get into the championship fight, but she has been locked out of the stadium.  Somehow, as Shaw is being beaten to a pulp, she appears behind a locked fence in the back of the Coliseum.  Everyone in the whole place notices her there at the same time, and even though she was on the other side of the barrier, suddenly she is able to run down the empty aisle, walk across the canvas to Luther’s corner and give him a pretty standard motivational speech.  This turns the fight right around and even though Shaw was close to being killed, he summons up the will to knock out his opponent

Then, finally, the film is shameless enough to end with the slow clap.  You know, that clichéd movie standard where the entire place is silent, then one person starts loud, deliberate clapping.  Little by little, more and more people join in until there is a roar of applause and standing ovation.  The slow clap has been so completely ridiculed in other films and media that you’d think that a movie would be afraid to try it anymore, but here it is.

This movie follows up In the Cut as another ill-advised attempt to change Meg Ryan’s image.  Not that she’s bad as Kallen; in fact she is pretty likable in the role.  Ryan’s Bronx working class accent is actually not bad, though it would be even more impressive if the film didn’t take place in Cleveland rather than the Bronx.  The whole creaky plot of movie lets her down, though.  We never really understand why Jackie is so interested in breaking into this world.  In fact, if not for the fact that Jackie was a woman in the world of boxing, there would be no real story here at all.  The woman making way in a man's world plotline is also oddly reminiscent of Marci X, a Lisa Kudrow vehicle that came and went in a heartbeat last year.

Even though I know I have judged it pretty harshly, Against the Ropes isn’t a horrible movie.  If you forget you've seen it all before it can be a relatively enjoyable variation on the boxing film.  It's just terribly predictable, something that true stories rarely are.  (2/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: May 21, 2004.

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Copyright ©2004   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: May 21, 2004.

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