Boasting a well-constructed screenplay, the sometimes declamatory PERCY AND THUNDER is gripping despite an occasional cliched interlude. Given two juicy roles, James Earl Jones and Courtney Vance headline a superb cast in what is essentially an African-American version of boxing-movie
classics like CHAMPION and BODY AND SOUL.
Perfecting his craft tirelessly, young boxer Thunder Carter (Courtney B. Vance) sets aside aspirations of a college education for the sheer love of the sport. Managed by a one-time contender, Percy Banks (James Earl Jones), Thunder skyrockets to professional acceptance but is stymied by the
corrupt dealings of small-time promoters like Jim Keisling (Robert Wuhl) and the members of the local boxing commission.
Stubborn about ethical matters, primarily because he blew his own shot at superstardom, Percy initially balks at the white hucksters who want to employ Thunder in an effort to enhance the reputations of their own fighters. Aided by an attorney, Suzanne (Gloria Reuben), with a romantic interest in
Thunder, the fighter and his paranoid coach gain a few allies but can't crack the big time. Strutting his stuff at the training camp run by Sugar Brown (Gloria Foster), Thunder attracts the attention of self-made millionaire Ralph Tate (Billy Dee Williams) who has sewn up every aspect of the black
prize-fighting racket. When Percy sacrifices himself by stepping aside so that Tate can groom his discovery for stardom, Thunder feels abandoned rather than gratified.
Although Thunder's rise is meteoric, he feels sullied by Tate's master-slave hold on him and lobbies for Percy's return. Furious when pressured to take a dive rather than being given a legit jab at the championship, Thunder costs Tate a fortune when he proceeds to win the fight. And when the
pragmatic Tate later turns up with a more tempting deal, the honorable Thunder temporarily quits boxing until he and his cohorts can determine a way to clean up the corrupt aspects of the sport.
Sending the viewer down a maze of dirty deals, PERCY AND THUNDER can't quite overcome the obviousness of its dramaturgy. Unable to land any expository punches, the film registers strongly as a result of some superb performances. Though there are elements present from a number of past boxing
melodramas, there's nothing second-hand about Vance's dynamic incarnation of moral certitude in the face of evil. Matching him note for note are Jones as the rigidly principled manager living vicariously through his pupil and Williams as a Don King clone feeding off the misery of his proteges.
Acting brilliance takes the edge off the rampant familiarity of the storyline and engrosses viewers with a depressing glimpse into the anything-for-a-buck scrambling of the spoilers running professional boxing.(Violence, adult situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: NR
- Review: Boasting a well-constructed screenplay, the sometimes declamatory PERCY AND THUNDER is gripping despite an occasional cliched interlude. Given two juicy roles, James Earl Jones and Courtney Vance headline a superb cast in what is essentially an African-Ame… (more)