Against The Ropes

Transplant ERIN BROCKOVICH into one of the later ROCKY films, add a healthy dollop of LEGALLY BLOND-style lipstick feminism and the result is this thoroughly formulaic gloss on the life and career of pioneering boxing promoter Jackie Kallen, who took on mobsters, thugs and assorted sexist scum armed with street smarts, high heels and an unshakable devotion...read more

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Transplant ERIN BROCKOVICH into one of the later ROCKY films, add a healthy dollop of LEGALLY BLOND-style lipstick feminism and the result is this thoroughly formulaic gloss on the life and career of pioneering boxing promoter Jackie Kallen, who took on mobsters, thugs and assorted sexist scum armed with street smarts, high heels and an unshakable devotion to the sweet science. As a child, little Jackie hangs out in her dad's gym, doted on by her Uncle Ray Ray (Sean Bell), a small-time pugilist, and warned by her father that boxing is an unsuitable interest for a girl. As an adult, tough-talking, street-wise Jackie (Meg Ryan, affecting a broad, trashy accent of indeterminate origin) has acquired dead-end job working for a shady sports-arena manager and an apparently inexhaustible wardrobe of slutty outfits. After trading insults with sleazy boxing promoter LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub), Jackie unexpectedly walks away from the encounter with a dare and a washed-up fighter's contract. Jackie abandons her new fighter when she learns he's a crack head, but recognizes real potential in street brawler Luther Shaw (Omar Epps). Jackie lures retired trainer Felix Reynolds (Charles S. Dutton) back into the game, hocks her jewelry for seed money and starts molding Luther into a first-class middleweight fighter despite LaRocca's every attempt to undermine her efforts. Along the way, Jackie becomes a celebrity, nearly allows foolish pride to derail her dreams and comes to the eleventh hour realization that if she's not true to herself she's no better than LaRocca and his goons. Hollywood loves a sassy gal bristling with grit and gumption, especially when a bankable star like one-time ingenue Ryan, a doe-eyed kewpie doll with pillowy lips and a great pair of gams, wants to play her. Like the real Erin Brockovich, Jackie Kallen underwent a makeover on her way to the screen. A self-described "little Jewish housewife" from a middle-class Detroit family with no boxing connections, Kallen was married, had two children and worked as a rock journalist and sports publicist before embarking on her career as a promoter. Screenwriter Cheryl Edwards, who wrote the equally by-the-book SAVE THE LAST DANCE (2001) transforms her into a single, tough-talking, secular Cleveland every-twinkie with a too-neat back story, ripe to endure shallow heartbreak and learn easy moral lessons. Even by the standards of pop-moral parables passing for entertainment, this is bland stuff.

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