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When We Were Kings Reviews

The intersection of sports, politics and culture enlivens Leon Gast's entertaining documentary about the heavily promoted 1974 heavyweight championship bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which took place in Zaire. Twenty-two years ago, Ali was a brash, righteous challenger who seemed indestructible; Foreman was a surly, menacing champ, light years away from the cuddly TV pitchman he would become. The movie chronicles the so-called "Rumble in the Jungle" from its initial promotion in the U.S. through a six-week postponement that left the fighters, their entourages and the world's sports press waiting with varying degrees of impatience in Kinshasa, the capital city of an impoverished African nation. Ali started out a 3-1 underdog and quickly became the people's favorite: While Foreman brooded in his hotel, Ali went out daily to meet and greet the locals, charming them with his animated personality and playful sense of humor. The film suggests that Ali's connection to the citizens of Zaire -- and, by extension, to people of African heritage all over the world -- enabled him to conquer his fear of Foreman and rise to a higher -- even spiritual -- level of courage, Gast doesn't hide his admiration for the charismatic Ali, whose antics provide the film's most enjoyable moments. Boxing fans Norman Mailer and Spike Lee contribute a few observations, while James Brown and B.B. King are featured in musical interludes.