Against the Ropes
PG-13, 93 m
Starring Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub and Charles Dutton.
Directed by Dutton.
“Against the Ropes” makes one of the cardinal mistakes found in many films today: It feigns the illusion that it can be all things to all people. Character actor Charles Dutton’s directorial debut attempts to be a sports movie, a classic underdog story, a female empowerment tale and a comedy all at once. Watching it fail to accomplish just about all of these goals isn’t amusing in even a morbid way. “Against the Ropes” breaks down as a movie scene by scene. It sadly conforms to dull convention and over-expository dialogue, boring the audience while hoping to lecture them at the same time.
Stars Meg Ryan as Jackie Kallen, a real-life die-hard boxing fan from childhood who works assisting a mean-spirited boxing promoter. She dreams of making it on her own as a boxing promoter and manager, but realizes that the male-dominated sport will be resistant to that dream until, through a convoluted series of events, she happens upon Luther Shaw (Epps). Kallen identifies him as a promising raw talent that can elevate them both into the upper stratosphere of the boxing world. Add director Dutton in the role of retired trainer Felix Reynolds and the clich? yard sale is just about cleaned out.
Of course, there must be a concrete singular villain. In this film, it comes in the form of big-time promoter Sam Larocca (played by the usually brilliant Tony Shalhoub). Larocca seems to be a natural fit for Shalhoub on the outside, but Shalhoub seems deflated here. There is absolutely no reason given his disdain for Kallen or the protective nature of his relationship with the middleweight champion. The fact that he is also the most realized character in the whole film is kind of an indication that screenwriter Cheryl Edwards seemed pretty lost as to how to actually present theses characters. Her screenplay constantly hits the audience over the head with mindless dialogue that goes on forever and robs all of the actors of inner monologue. This film is a far cry from her only other work, “Save the Last Dance,” which was thoughtful and pretty intelligent.
Ryan doesn’t fare well here either and she gives what may be the worst performance of her career. Her portrayal of Kallen is disjointed and sometimes painful in its abundance of over= dramatic moments and low-brow humor. Epps and Dutton are given almost nothing to do and are treated as dispensable in this ego-trip of a movie. There’s even a moment where Kallen’s selfishness is brought up in a sappy over-the-top way that gives the annoying character more attention and undeserved sympathy. Rarely does the audience get cheated out of character development and have a movie acknowledge and celebrate that fact. Add to these performances some of the worst boxing footage this side of “Rocky V,” and the true extent of the film’s failure to connect with audiences on any level becomes apparent.
In the end, “Against the Ropes” is a film that lacks identity, purpose and subtlety - traits that don’t necessarily make a film great, but at least will make one solid. Jackie Kallen’s real story, of which this movie is only loosely based, is actually a fascinating one. It’s a little sad that it has been marginalized as a Hollywood vehicle that stalls at every turn.