1 item from 1999
Ron Shelton is not just a student of boxing; he has also written or directed such outstanding movies about Americans playing sports as "The Best of Times", "Bull Durham" and "White Men Can't Jump". So one experiences "Play It to the Bone" starring Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas and Lolita Davidovich with deep disappointment.
On the road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a boxing match, the movie gets sidetracked into a muddled character study long on dialogue and short on real writing. By the time the movie arrives at the actual bout, audiences may be too weary to care about the match despite some exciting fight footage.
You won't get good odds on the boxoffice prospects for "Bone". The film's opportunities in ancillary markets are long shots as well.
The key to any character study is to have characters worthy of study. Why Shelton fails this test may be found in a line in the media notes that states "Bone" wrapped photography about six months from the time Shelton began to write his script. Haste is not always a friend to the writing process.
Indeed, Shelton's script, nearly two-thirds of which consists of three characters trapped in a Vegas-bound car bickering with one another, plays more like a sketch for a movie rather than a screenplay. It's all back story, with the only action jammed into the final minutes.
Two out-of-work boxers and best buddies, Vince (Harrelson) and Cesar (Banderas), get the chance of a lifetime -- well, to be accurate, the second chance of a lifetime -- when they are offered the undercard of a Mike Tyson bout in Vegas. The catch -- they gotta be in Vegas for the match that night.
Unaccountably, they choose to drive with wannabe entrepreneur Grace (Davidovich), Cesar's current girlfriend and Vince's ex, in her lime green 1972 Olds 442 convertible. Something about those long desert stretches causes all three to unburden themselves about their past lives (details of which one would assume the three intimate friends already know by heart).
Amid recollections of failed title shots and relationships, the three misfits quarrel incessantly, covering and recovering the same ground with a grinding relentlessness. One learns that Vince has become a Jesus freak complete with hallucinations. Cesar allows that following his last bout he experimented with homosexuality. Grace, who chooses this trip to break up with Cesar, referees the two men's quarrels until an oversexed hitchhiker, played with energy by Lucy Liu, throws off the car's dynamics.
Arriving in Vegas, the trio encounters a host of boxing types -- shady promoters (Tom Sizemore and Robert Wagner), a shyster lawyer (Jack Carter) and various hangers-on -- all cliches of cliches. But finally, the film gets to the main event.
The initial rounds produce the movie's most exciting sequences. But gradually, in blow after blow of the gory fight, even these sequences become repetitive and implausible. Sheldon won't even allow his aging warriors to get weary and dance away from punches. They enter the 10th round nearly as energetic as the first.
The actors' training pays off though, with each moving like a genuine boxer. Banderas, however, slouches rather badly throughout the film as if favoring a back injury.
Shelton has loaded ringside with celebrities (Kevin Costner, Wesley Snipes, James Woods), renowned promoters, cutmen, sports commentators and former champ George Foreman to give the match the feeling it's the genuine article. Mark Vargo's photography and Paul Seydor's editing are exceptional. But Shelton, who clearly cares about this world and its people, regrettably never finds a way to let the audience share in that concern.
PLAY IT TO THE BONE
Buena Vista Pictures
Touchstone Pictures in association
with Shanghai'd Films
Producer Stephen Chin
Screenwriter-director Ron Shelton
Executive producer David Lester
Director of photography Mark Vargo
Production designer Claire Jenora Bowin
Music Alex Wurman
Costume designer Kathryn Morrison
Editor Paul Seydor
Vince Woody Harrelson
Cesar Antonio Banderas
Grace Lolita Davidovich
Joe Domino Tom Sizemore
Hank Goody Robert Wagner
Lia Lucy Liu
Artie Richard Masur
Cappie Caplan Willie Garson
Rudy Cylk Cozart
Dante Solomon Jack Carter
Running time -- 124 minutes
MPAA rating: R
1 item from 1999
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