January 19, 2004

Against the Ropes

On the other end of the true-sports-story spectrum today, I present you with the long-delayed Meg Ryan vehicle AGAINST THE ROPES, also slated to open on February 6. Based on the real life of groundbreaking female boxing promoter Jackie Kallen, this film feels about a bogus as a three-dollar bill, which is surprising because Kallen was at my screening in the flesh peddling this movie hard. I'll grant you that a movie based on real stories doesn't have to be accurate to be interesting, but in this case, every plot twist feels manufactured and apparently they all were. For example, when the events of this film happened in reality, Kallen was married and had two kids. The woman that Ryan plays is single with no kids. There's even a conversation between her and her only boxing client, Luther Shaw (the bored-looking Omar Epps), about why she doesn't have kids. It's almost like taking a highlighter to the lies.

The set up of the movie is okay. Kallen works as a glorified secretary for an Ohio-based promoter named Larocca (Tony Shalhoub, whipping out his tough guy accent for the occasion). After one two many times being called toots and half-pint by the men in the organization, Kallen strikes out on her own and finds Shaw dealing drugs in the projects. After watching him in a street fight, she can tell he's got the stuff to make it as a professional boxer, and hires retired trainer Felix Reynolds (played by director Charles S. Dutton) to whip the thug into shape. In a flurry of activity, Shaw slowly climbs the lower rungs of the professional circuit until it becomes apparent that the only one who stands in his way in the current middle-weight champ, managed by (you guessed it) Kallen's old boss Larocca, who doesn't want to have anything to do with her or her fighter. But we know that won't stop Super-Jackie, who taunts Larocca into a chance at the title. Kallen's fame as a female promoter rises faster than her boxer's, and that doesn't sit well with Shaw, who wants Larocca to buy-out his contract. The climactic match between Shaw and the champ is a joke, plain and simple, and might be the least inspiring sports movie finale in film history. Just to show you how desperate the filmmakers were to find a suitable ending for the story, there's actually a scene where one person starts clapping in Jackie's honor, then another, then another, then the entire room full of extras, including Jackie's most hated adversaries.

I'm guessing the real arc of Kallen's life is pretty interesting in its own right, and rearranging and investing events in her life does her place in history a great injustice. The story of AGAINST THE ROPES feels like Hollywood taking advantage of someone unfamiliar with how movies get made. It was very sad to listen to Kallen justify the changes made to her life story, and I couldn't help pity this woman--who continues to make a life and career of standing up for herself--have to make excuses for selling her soul. AGAINST THE ROPES is a big misfire for Ryan, Dutton, and especially the great Jackie Kallen.

Posted by sprokopy at January 19, 2004 10:31 PM