Two aging fighters in LA, friends, get a call from a Vegas promoter because his undercard fighters for a Mike Tyson bout that night are suddenly unavailable. He wants them to box each other. They agree as long as the winner gets a shot at the middleweight title. They enlist Grace, Cesar's current and Vinnie's ex girlfriend, to drive them to Vegas. On the trip, we see flashbacks to their previous title shots, their competitive friendship, and Grace's motivational wiles. (She has her own entrepreneurial dreams.) The fight itself is historic: ten rounds of savagery and courage. Who will win, who'll get the title shot, who gets Grace, and where will she find venture capital? Written by
The story goes that Ron Shelton wanted to make a biopic of Bob Marley, but the financing fell through, and in a few weeks time, he wrote this boxing film. "That's okay," you think. "This is Ron Shelton. Sure, he co-wrote THE GREAT WHITE HYPE, which was disappointing, but he didn't direct that one. He did write and direct BULL DURHAM, WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP, COBB, and TIN CUP(well, he co-wrote the last one, but let's not split hairs), all great sports movies, so he could probably do a boxing movie in his sleep." Well, unfortunately, that's what he seems to have done in this disappointing movie.
Shelton was reportedly inspired by a true-life fight where the preliminary match also turned out to be much more compelling than the featured attraction, which would seem tailor-made for him. And like the other Shelton heroes, the characters of Vince(Harrelson) and Cesar(Banderas) aren't among the great ones, though they've flirted with greatness. Finally, certainly the idea is right in place, that the point is not who of these best friends wins the fight(without revealing the ending, I will say it's not only logical, but feels right), but the fact they each got this last shot and put on a good show. The problem, until the fight scenes, is the execution.
Shelton usually has a gift for dialogue and character, especially when romantic comedy is concerned, but he seems to have mislaid it here. Vince and Cesar are pretty much ciphers from the beginning, despite the obvious chemistry Harrelson and Banderas have between them. There are traits which are mildly funny(like the fact that a boxer would watch soaps), but nothing that adds up. Even the fact that Vince is a "Jesus" freak seems incoherent rather than part of the character. And the dialogue between them, except in the scenes when they're talking at the same time, seems lame, relying on easy homophobia and vulgarity rather than being funny(compare that to the clever trash talk in WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP). And even when Davidovich enters the picture, though she gamely tries, she's got nothing to work with, and seems oddly mismatched with Banderas. Harrelson at least she seems comfortable with, but they don't have enough scenes together.
The fight scenes are where Shelton finally comes alive. The behind-the-scenes details of how the fight gets into place and such are familiar, but well-handled. And the fight is compelling to us, so it's believable that the rest of the arena would find it so as well. We see the fighters being given advice, but since they think they know each other, they sometimes ignore it to do their own thing. And you really believe at the end they're both fighting on pure adrenaline. Even Davidovich becomes believable here as she realizes she loves both of them, and while she understands they need this, can't bear to watch them hurt each other. Yet even here, Shelton messes up. There are too many T&A shots, which are supposed to reflect how the fighters' minds are fogged up, but are more likely there to get people to hoot. Ultimately, I hope this is a blip on Shelton's career, rather than a sign he's losing it.
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