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A Jewish woman from Detroit who became a boxing manager, guiding several major careers. This film focuses on her relationship with one boxer (Epps), who's reportedly a composite of several including Toney, McKart and Hearns. Kallen eventually left her husband of 30 years, and moved to Los Angeles, becoming the commissioner of the International Female Boxers Association... Written by
Though ostensibly based on a true story, 'Against the Ropes' is pure movie hokum from start to finish.
Jackie Kallen made a name for herself as one of the few successful female managers in the history of professional boxing. In the movie's prologue, we meet Jackie as a young girl so obsessed with the sport that she spends her off hours at the gym helping her dad train her uncle, a fighter who died very early in his career. Years later, Jackie, on a dare, agrees to manage her own player - if only she can find a talent who will be willing to put his life and his career in the hands of an untried but determined woman. She alights on Luther Shaw, a drug-dealer-with-a-heart-of-gold whom she picks up in the nearby projects. Luther is, for the most part, a fictional character, a composite, we're told, of several of the fighters Kallen led to victory in the ring.
Regardless of how much of this is fiction or nonfiction, 'Against the Ropes' fails to generate any heat either as a character study or as a human drama. We're supposed to find all this interesting simply because Kallen is an attractive woman trying to prove herself in a man's world. Yet, the story is hackneyed, the dialogue corny, the characters and their conflicts trite and underdeveloped. The Cheryl Edwards screenplay is so sketchy and poorly articulated that we often don't understand why characters are behaving the way they are, particularly when it comes to the rough-and-tumble relationship between Jackie and Luther. One moment they are getting along swimmingly, and the next Jackie is strutting around blowing her own horn while Luther sits pouting in the corner. Whole episodes, which could have gone a long way towards explaining the characters' motivations, seem to have been dropped from the finished product at the last minute.
Kallen is obviously a change-of-pace role for Meg Ryan who generally plays the innocent ingénue lead in romantic comedies. Yet, despite the fact that she is a trifle more serious here and even gets to work with an accent (the mark of any 'serious' performer looking to buck up her credentials), the movie itself is so lacking in tension and grit and so determinedly upbeat and optimistic that it really doesn't give the actress a whole lot of opportunity to truly stretch those acting muscles. In fact, in the final scene, the film turns into little more than a vanity production for the waning star. Omar Epps fares a bit better, turning in a performance of strength and dignity, though the script lets him down by failing to develop his character to any appreciable extent.
The one fight scene is only moderately well executed and comes way too late in the film for anyone interested in the sport to still be hanging around ringside at that point. In fact, no one comes even close to scoring a knockout blow in 'Against the Ropes' - not Ryan, not Epps and certainly not the audience. 'Against the Ropes' is a sucker punch all the way.
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