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Play It To The Bone' is really two movies. One is a movie about boxing and
the other is a comedic character study of the boxers. As a boxing film it
succeeds nicely. As a comedy it has its moments. As a character study it
hits the canvas hard.
The storyline was sort of Rocky' times two. Two washed up middleweight boxers Vince and Cesar (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas), who are also best friends, get a last minute chance to fight in Las Vegas on the undercard of a Mike Tyson heavyweight bout when the two scheduled fighters are unable to fight. They are promised that the winner will get a chance to fight for the championship, but they have to be in Las Vegas tonight. The trouble is, they have to fight each other.
So they climb into a car with Cesar's girlfriend (and Vince's ex-girlfriend) Grace (Lolita Davidovich) and drive from L.A. to Las Vegas. Most of the rest of the movie is about the drive followed by the fight.
Director Ron Shelton has had quite a few sports oriented success stories to his credit (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump and Tin Cup). The best part of the film was the boxing. The boxing was well choreographed and both actors were athletic and fought like real boxers. Shelton was also excellent at creating the feel of a boxing match. Anyone who has ever watched an HBO bout will recognize ring announcers Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and George Foreman. Mike Tyson made a cameo as well as numerous celebrity boxing fans (Kevin Costner, Rod Stewart, Wesley Snipes and a host of others). The makeup for the cuts and puffiness was also very realistic.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film was not as good as the fight. Shelton spends a good deal of time developing the characters, but it is all for naught because they have no substance. They are two hapless jocks, obvious mental lightweights, who spend most of the trip to Las Vegas fighting over Grace, cutting up and strutting around like peacocks. Shelton takes great pains to try to make us love these characters equally by making them equally pathetic. But that doesn't work because it leaves the audience without anyone to pull for in the fight. The ending is utterly predictable and the film whimpers off into the sunset with no more than a stagger.
Banderas and Harrelson both gave journeyman performances. They had good chemistry and some decent comedy between them, but there was nothing special here. The best performance by far was by Davidovich who transcended her normal sex kitten role and took command of the entire film with a character that was a flaming bitch on wheels. She was smart, tough sexy and manipulative and dominated every scene. Once again she shows that she is talented as well as attractive, which makes me wonder why she has never gotten more substantial roles.
This is a tough one to rate because it does some things very well and other things poorly. I gave it a 6/10. It had some good comedic moments, but not enough of them. It had some excellent boxing scenes, but a disappointing outcome. And the character study simply failed due to vacant characters. If you like boxing, Harrelson, Banderas or especially Davidovich, you will enjoy this film. Otherwise, enter at your own risk.
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
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.
"Play It To The Bone" is about two guys who are good friends and washed
up boxers who are taking a road trip to fight each other in the ring
for some money and the audience learn some stuff about there background
as they reach there destination. The girl that gets between the two
fighters played by Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson is Lolita
Davidovich who is basically a skank but tries to act like she is not, a
very irritating character that is portrayed as like being the hot girl
that every guy falls for, also a temptress who use men for what she
wants, but she is pretty fugly looking and can't imagine any guy
falling for her in the way it's portrayed in the movie, when a lot of
the movie time is taken up by the two rivals fighting amongst each
other for a girl, at least make her attractive or at least somewhat
likable. The characters are also not developed very well although the
dialogue is very funny sometimes. Banderas and Harrelsn did a good job
with what they had, but a lot of what happens between them was sort of
predictable. Despite the flaws, this film had some good comedic moments
that I enjoyed watching although a lot of it was bickering. And when
the final fight starts you sort of care about it since the audience
gets to know a bit about there background and it's also entertaining to
watch even though the character development isn't strong as it should
be, the fight however was well choreographed. There seems to be a lot
of critics that are really bashing on this film, but I liked it. It was
entertaining despite the flaws, it was entertaining and funny.
When you think of sports films, one name comes to mind: Ron Shelton. Five of
his last six directorial efforts, not to mention writing efforts like "Blue
Chips," have been about sports. "Bull Durham," of course, is his touchstone
film, but "White Men Can't Jump" and "Tin Cup" are both excellent. Baseball,
basketball, golf, and now with "Play It to the Bone," boxing. But are they
really sports films or are they simply character-driven comedies that use
the sports world as a backdrop?
Only Shelton knows if it's intentional, but almost all of these stories follow a similar formula: he takes three characters, two men, one woman, who are all different things to each other. Sometimes it's a love triangle, sometimes it's not-but the woman always has a lot to teach one of the men in particular (Susan Sarandon's character in "Bull Durham" to Tim Robbins', Rosie Perez's character in "WMCJ" to Woody Harrelson's, etc.).
One of the men is a washed up has-been or never-was and the other is the egomaniacal flavor-of-the-month (Kevin Costner and Don Johnson in "Tin Cup"; Costner and Robbins in "Bull Durham"). The lone woman always uses psychology to enlighten the men on how to play the Game better, both of sports and of love (Rene Russo's character in "Tin Cup" is a psychiatrist). The entire story is about the contrast between the men's and the woman's view of life. Somehow, the woman always ends up the wisest of the three, while the men are allowed to behave irrationally because that's what men do. In the end, she finds that one of them is hopeless, and chooses him because of it. A woman never met a man she couldn't fix, at least not in a Ron Shelton film (the exception being "WMCJ": Rosie Perez' character does actually leave Harrelson's).
"Play It to the Bone" is more of the same. This time, however, both men are washed-up has-beens--boxers--Vince and Cesar (Harrelson and Antonio Banderas). They both have a lot of kinks to work out in their lives. The only issue either of them acknowledges at first is money--they have none and are offered fifty grand apiece to fight as replacements on a Mike Tyson undercard. The two are best friends, both have been ranked as middleweight or super middleweight boxers, but they've never met in the ring. Instead of flying to Las Vegas, they drive from Los Angeles in Cesar's girlfriend's (Lolita Davidovich) car.
Davidovich plays Grace, the aforementioned all-knowing woman, a Ron Shelton staple. She's dated both Vince and Cesar and knows exactly what buttons to push. She knows what makes each man fight better and, over the course of the road trip that eats up the film's first two acts, brings each to the proper mental state.
"Play It" is like a rubber band: you keep pulling it back farther and farther, building up the tension until it's ready to break, then release. When the opening bell of Vince and Cesar's bout rings, Shelton's rubber band snaps. Grace's intention was for the two to fight each other and for both to do well, allowing each to unleash some of the frustrations they have in their lives. Her mistake was thinking that either man would hold back. By the fifth round, when they've beaten each other's faces bloody, we see the two aren't fighting each other any more: they're fighting themselves. Every woman knows that men don't talk about what's really on their minds. I admit it: We men generally deny what is true about ourselves until we're ready to explode. Shelton has a way of hitting the bullseye when it comes to human interaction, and does so again here.
The film's centerpiece, the final fight, is exciting and entertaining. It's more visual than anything Shelton has tried. As the men fight, they have visions that represent their respective life struggles. I found myself missing the Shelton of old, the one that just told it straight. Everything just felt more free and fun; loose. The story was always a free-for-all, a game with no rules, where absolutely anything can happen. With "Play It," he seems too intent on making a point and becomes (gasp) a filmmaker. The story actually has (gulp) structure, whereas his others were directionless, but in a good way. For once, Shelton wrote the characters rather than letting the characters write themselves.
Mr. Shelton, leave structure to the hacks and keep making great films.
With the Tyson fight coming to Vegas, organisers Hank Goody and Joe
Domino have put together quite a few big names on the undercard.
However when one of their fighters turns up drugged out with two
hookers and his opponent is pronounced dead at the scene of a car
accident, they are forced to try and rustle up two fighters with a few
hours notice and turns to friends Vince and Cesar. Taking the offer,
the friends set off with Cesar's girlfriend to make the trip to Vegas
for the fight a trip that sees them learning more about one another
while also trying to prepare to try and knock each other out.
I looked at the cast list for this film and wondered why such a film had managed to come and go in the UK without me even having heard of it. So many well-known actors, a big sports director and loads of star cameos surely it must be great, well, in a word, no. This is not to say that it is awful because it isn't, it is just that the writing is nowhere near good enough to sustain the film and as a result the film is never engaging on any level. The film has a fight over the final 30 minutes, including set up, but the majority of the film sees us riding in the car with the three main characters. This focus puts a lot of onus onto them as characters and their stories to be interesting and engaging the dynamics and the history in that car needs to be the edge, to be the hook that kept me interested. It has its interesting stuff but major things like Grace's relationship with the two men but it doesn't do anything with it whatsoever. Even during the fight her split emotions are made very clear but the actual script never bothers to develop it or make it more than very obvious padding. Sadly the majority of the dialogue was just bickering that didn't develop the characters at all and made their stories just fall flat in the telling because we don't really care about them. Bickering, as White Men Can't Jump showed us, can be fun when it is delivered as a source of comedy but here there are no laughs because it doesn't seem to want to be a comedy either. Its target seemed to have been a character sports film with laughs but it pretty much misses all of those.
This is not to say that the actual fight isn't fun because it is pretty enjoyable if you like that sort of thing. Yes it is all a bit unrealistic but it is pretty exciting at points and only gets silly at key moments. It isn't a great fight but it is at least a relief to get away from the empty bickering of the majority of the film. Sadly it ends on a low point and then drags back into the empty script again for about 10 minutes before just ending without really telling us anything. Physically Harrelson and Banderas both look good although Woody looks the buffest and is an imposing presence. Sadly he just plays his usual character and, without the material, he is exposed. Banderas tries harder to bring some character out in his role but he is just shadow boxing because the script is not there with him. Davidovich is OK but it is evident that she had no idea why her character feels for both the men or why it is so persistent nor does she know what to do with it and, although light and fun, she alone cannot add substance. Lucy Liu is annoying and seems only there to fill time, flash flesh and fake an orgasm for the audience. Sizemore is fun but obvious, as is Wagner but both men are very underused. The cameos all roll in at the end of the film but other than saying 'oh look it's' they don't really add anything.
Overall this is a pretty poor film. It could have been better if the writing had developed the characters and made the dialogue relevant and interesting instead of just making it a load of bickering, but it didn't. The fight is enjoyable but mainly because it is a welcome break from the average stuff that has gone before, but fans of boxing will scoff at it even if it is quite fun for the most part. Generally it is a missed opportunity with an average script and no real aspirations; not bad just really weak.
This movie had some great boxing scenes. The hits looked real and the cuts
and bruises did too. The only problem with this movie was it was a little
over two hours. Instead of flying to Las Vegas, they drove there. This led
to over 40 minutes in the car (Nice car though). If the movie was 90
minutes, it would have been much better.
A nice touch was the use of real boxing personality. For the casual fan, people would reconize George Foreman, Mike Tyson and other from HBO. It also had real cutmen and trainers in the corners. The director/writer does his research and the movie does show it.
Still the movie is a 5 out of 10.
Here we go on the old merry-go-round again. A great premise, an attractive cast, a solid director, and ultimately, a bad combination. I myself had been salivating at the idea of Woody Harrleson and Ron Shelton teaming up again. And they say good things come to those who wait ... NOT TRUE!!! The only person who packs a punch here is Lolita Davidovich, who provides the ONLY reason that one would want to see this movie. Mr. Harrleson and Mr. Banderas have both proven that they have screen charisma, and they have it here too, but they are not given much good dialogue nor understandable actions to undertake, so Ms. Davidovich (especially in the red-dress scenes) easily knocks them both out of her way. If you want to see Mr. Harrleson, go rent THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT, or turn on a re-run of CHEERS. For Mr. Banderas, rent DESPERADO and THE MASK OF ZORRO. For Mr. Shelton, rent WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP (his previous collaboration with Mr. Harrleson), BULL DURHAM, COBB (also with Ms. Davidovich and with a super performance by Tommy Lee Jones as the original SOB himself), or TIN CUP. For Ms. Davidovich, rent BLAZE.
All in all, this is an okay film. The plot is very simple, and the
characters are fairly interesting. I understand that this movie is supposed
to be about second chances, but I couldn't help but think after the movie's
very predictable ending, what the hell was the point of the movie? What was
the epiphany reached, and what was the point of characters like Lucy Liu
being in the story? 90% of the film is spent during the car ride to Vegas,
which is good and bad, it gives a personal touch to a movie, yet does get
kind of old after a while. I like Woody Harelson's character b\c I can
relate to him in a lot of respects. One thing I found unrealistic, no chick
would ever ditch Antonio 'de sexy' Banderas, I almost laughed when she
'broke up' with him. Antonio also looked a little weak for a boxer, but the
fight scene in the end was not effected by it. The end is actually the best
part of the movie, yet it is very predictable. Overall, not a bad friday
night movie if you have some time to kill and a few beers to pounce.
A boxing film from minor or no league sports milieu chronicler Ron Shelton
(Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump) with the not exactly untested talents
Antonio Banderas, Woody Harrelson, Tom Sizemore, Robert Wagner, Richard
Masur, Lolita Davidovich and Lucy Liu. What's wrong with this picture?
Nothing once you get to the last third and the actual fight ensues. It's
first 90 minutes that's not quite a knock out.
In our overly commercialized and celebrity athlete obsessed world
culture, Shelton has made a career out of showing us the world of the
also-rans (and jumped and hit and thrown, etc.). For every record breaking
multi-millioned contract holder making even more telling the world to
the Gatorade, there's a hundred guys like "Durham's" Crash Davis trying to
eke out one more season before taking a job at the sports shop or hardware
store. This is "Bone's" big stumble, not really establishing what kinda of
lives these two has-beens lead now that they are reduced to working as
sparring partners at a no-name local L.A. gym. Shelton would have written
this a whole lot smarter if he had picked a venue he knew better back
say New Orleans or St. Louis for Banderas' Cesar and Harrelson's Vince to
It would have made the road trip a helluva lot more interesting
visually, moving through prairie to mountains to desert. Instead, we get
dried brush and rocks as back drop for Cesar and Vince's back and forth
is supposed to tell us who they are. And who they are isn't all that
interesting, which is what's going to doom this film with audiences. This
story that starts off in the most contrived way. In a chain of events that
starts with the undercard of a Mike Tyson fight in Vegas getting
stoned and haplessly dead, respectively, we are then asked to believe that
the promoter would even in panic call two guys who don't even really fight
any more. The film really needs the audience to believe and believe in
guys after this and Shelton fails to make Vince and Cesar unique enough.
People might plunk down their eight bucks for a flick with stupendous
special effects, but a great fight?
Which is the one thing that "Play It To The Bone" has - a helluva
fight. For filmgoers who thought the book had been written on showing a
boxing match with either the high art stylization of "Raging Bull" or the
pop art sequences of the Rocky franchise, prepare for the most brutally
realistic display of the sweet science yet shown. In a sequence that uses
refreshing paucity of slow-mo shots, we are taken through ten rounds of
sympathy-welt-raising fisticuffs. At least we know the time Shelton didn't
spend on researching his characters wasn't wasted hobnobbing with Tyson
the other real-life boxing personalities who pop up in cameos during this
section. It was spent watching God knows how many hours of old boxing
The sequence also manages a subtle commentary on the empty spectacle of such "event" sporting events, as the oblivious main event crowd gets sucked into Vince and Cesar's career defining contest. Here's what a boxing match is supposed to be about: two hungry guys out to prove they are top dog. And right up to the conclusion Shelton is on his way to making the first uninspired 90 minutes disappear - then he pulls his last punches and ruins it. This is when the anemic character develpment and unorginality catches up with him. The audience feels sucker-punched going out the door.
While working out in a Los Angeles gym, nearly washed-up boxer pals
Antonio Banderas (as Cesar Dominguez) and Woody Harrelson (as Vince
Boudreau) receive an invitation. They are offered a bout in Las Vegas
for $50,000 each, with the winner getting to fight for the middleweight
crown. The men get entrepreneurial Lolita Davidovich (as Grace Pasic)
to head out for Vegas, in her bright green Oldsmobile. She appears to
be interested in both men, although Mr. Banderas plays both sides of
the ring and Mr. Harrelson likes picking up young skanks. The trio
drive to Vegas so the men can fight and Ms. Davidovich can peddle her
"bed periscope" and "athlete's foot sock" inventions to Las Vegas
promoters. Insatiable and arrogant 20-year-old Lucy Liu (as Lia) joins
the group at a diner. Several celebrities have cameos...
Writer-director Ron Shelton has a competently made, but uninteresting story to tell. The three main characters are supposed to have close relationships, but really only occupy the same screen...
The men attempt to demonstrate a camaraderie, but are still eager to beat each other savagely. If the fight is supposed to be a substitute for sex, it's unsuccessful. The opening minutes suggest the theme of sexual threesomes, but it's never explored beyond the two depictions of wealthy men having two suggestively Lesbian super-models as bed partners. Banderas' character is apparently bisexual and Harrelson's a born-again Christian, but neither characteristic is convincing; possibly, these traits are given to get the men in a fighting mood. The big boxing match does make sense, scoring-wise. We learn that boxers hallucinate when the going gets ugly. Davidovich starts off encouraging, but has limited appeal. By the way, the best punch is thrown by Davidovich. And her bout with Robert Wagner isn't bad, either.
*** Play It to the Bone (1999-12-25) Ron Shelton ~ Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich, Lucy Liu
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