Against the Ropes
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Charles S Dutton
scr Cheryl Edwards
with Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Charles S Dutton, Tony Shalhoub, Timothy Daly, Joe Cortese, Kerry Washington, Neil Crone, Tory Kittles, Holt McCallany, Sean Bell, Skye McCole Bartusiak
release US 20.Feb.04; UK 14.May.04
04/US 1h51

Sparring matches in and outside the ring: Epps with Ryan (above) and the champ (below)...

ryan epps dutton
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Based on the life of boxing promoter Jackie Kallen, this entertaining film has Erin Brockovich written all over it, mostly due to Meg Ryan's blowsy performance as a real woman who took on a man's world. Alas, the comparison doesn't work in this film's favour, since it's a much less accomplished film. But it's a great story.

Jackie (Ryan) was raised in a boxing family; the sport runs in her blood, so it's pretty galling that she has to work as a secretary for a vain Cleveland boxing venue manager (Cortese). She's clearly the brains in the operation, so when another promoter (Shalhoub) inadvertently gives her a shot at managing a boxer, she runs with it. Soon, she discovers a young thug (Epps) with real potential, lures a respected coach (Dutton) from retirement and sets her eyes on the title.

There's lots of spark here, as each big personality clashes with the others to drive the story forward. And the cast obviously relish the opportunity to chomp some scenery. Ryan is very good as the trashy, gifted and pushy Jackie--she's not always sympathetic, yet we identify with her even when she becomes rather arrogant. Perhaps it's because by then the gyrations of the plot are in motion and we know where it's heading! And the surrounding cast is excellent--Epps as a charming thug, Shalhoub as a swaggering top dog, Daly as a nice-guy journalist, and Dutton as the latest cinematic incarnation of the gruff-but-loveable boxing coach. As a director, Dutton handles the material efficiently, keeping the boxing action to a minimum until the thrillingly rough and emotional final bout. But it's Edwards' script that lets the film down with its too-worthy dialog and an over-constructed plot that strains to be meaningful and moving. But it's only truly meaningful when the filmmakers don't try so hard! For example, the film speaks directly to the gender issues, but it's even more effective in the underhanded way it deals with the racial themes.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo, boxing violence 6.Feb.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall