Play It to the Bone

Face off: Vince and Cesar (Harrelson and Banderas) prepare for Round 1 of their big match...
dir-scr Ron Shelton
with Antonio Banderas, Woody Harrelson, Lolita Davidovich, Tom Sizemore, Robert Wagner,Lucy Liu, Richard Masur, Cylk Cozart, Willie Garson, Jack Carter, Aida Turturro, Steve Lawrence
00/US 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Having tackled baseball (twice), football, basketball and golf, Shelton turns to boxing, which he says is his favourite. So it's no surprise that Play It to the Bone is a clever, comic tale of has-beens getting a final shot at glory with the help of a female guru. And while it's a watchable, well-played, often very funny film, it never says anything terribly new. And its boxing sequences are so gruesomely violent that they're almost unwatchable.

Cesar and Vince (Banderas and Harrelson) are best pals, professional boxers who train together in Los Angeles and have little hope of ever making the big time. Then they're phoned by two major fight promoters (Sizemore and Wagner) who are in a pinch. On the morning of a big Tyson fight, the warm-up boxers are both out of action; they need a new duo, and Cesar and Vince are it. So they grab Cesar's girlfriend (Vince's ex), the long-time boxing groupie Grace (Davidovich), and head off across the desert to Vegas.

Basically this is a road movie about these three characters driving through the Mojave on their way to meet their destiny, and as such it's pretty good fun. Through their antics and conversations we learn their backstories, and the actors obviously have a good time with their characters. In fact, the movie-set hijinks are so obvious that we often feel like outsiders to some giant in-joke. Then when these two loveable wannabes finally arrive and face off in the ring, the film shifts gear dramatically to show perhaps the most brutal ever movie boxing match. This change in tone is quite startling, throwing the story into a tailspin that it struggles valiantly to recover from. The film's very well made from start to finish, but it refuses to ever decide what it's trying to say besides the simplistic go-for-it platitude (already obvious in the film's title). There are lots of nicely breezy performances with hints at depth underneath, in addition to a truck full of witty star cameos for the big fight. But the whole thing feels only half-realised, like the fun of making it overtook any concept of story or theme Shelton may have had in mind when he started.

[18--strong adult themes and situations, violence and gore, language] 17.Jul.00
US release 14.Jan.00; UK release 22.Sep.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall