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Against The Ropes

Genre: , ,

Cast: Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Charles S. Dutton, Tony Shalhoub, Timothy Dale, Joe Cortese, Kerry Washington

Director: Charles S. Dutton

Rated: R

Release Date: July 13th, 2004
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Overall Grade: C+

Against The Ropes

Review By: Staff

Against the Ropes

Against The Ropes is for Meg Ryan what Erin Brockovich was for Julia Roberts; that is, if Erin Brockovich had been a bad movie. In both films these two American female movie stars most beloved for being sweet, yet plucky, take on roles inspired by real woman who are decidedly less nice and wholesome than their usual on screen personas. Both Erin Brockovich and Jackie Kallen, the boxing manager who inspired Against The Ropes, are smart, underestimated, ballsy, aggressive women with extremely tacky clothing. The difference between the two performances is that Roberts manages to retain her inherent likeability – that smile, that verve -, but Ryan unfortunately doesn't.

The first mistake with Ryan's performance is her accent. It's flat, nasal, and completely inhibits Ryan's ability to be charming. Her cutesy ways may be something the actress is trying to move away from (her recent In the Cut is further evidence), but in a film that is entirely dependent upon the audiences' ability to enjoy Kallen, likeability doesn't seem like something worth sacrificing, especially if it could be retained by just deciding to let Ryan sound like herself. In a sense it's a compliment to Meg as an actress that she was able to so completely jettison her usual charm; on the other, the film suffers for a lack of charm, usual or otherwise.

Ryan plays Jackie Kallen, the most successful female boxing manager in history (not that she has much competition). When we meet up with Jackie, she's an underappreciated, disillusioned secretary for a man who runs Cleveland's boxing arena. She only sticks around because she gets to see the fights. This lady loves her some boxing; a notion that's communicated only through dialogue. Through a series of incidents that demonstrate Jackie is neither stupid nor capable of biting her tongue, she ends up in pissing match with head promoter LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub, also sporting an intense accent), who sells her a boxer, Green, for a buck. Green isn't the real deal, in fact he's a crack head, but while checking up on him, Kallen does find the real deal: raw, angry Luther Shaw (Omar Epps).

She signs him, hires a wise, retired trainer, Felix, (director Charles S. Dutton in the films strongest performance), and the rest writes itself: Luther gets more and more successful, LaRocca stands in the way of his title shot, Kallen becomes increasingly self-obsessed, ruins her relationship with Luther, only to overcome her flaws and have all redeemed in the final title bout.

I don't mean to sound glib; I like a clichéd sports film as much as the next person. Honest, I cried at Miracle. But there's some oomph missing from all the climactic moments, which the script is at least partially at fault for. Ryan's final speech to Shaw is so utterly forgettable, so lacking spark, it's impossible to

believe that it eggs him on to victory.

More believable is the quiet grace of Felix, who early on yells during a training session gone bad, "I'm trying to teach him not to use his fists," in by far the films most powerful moment. At that exact second, Jackie is clinging to Luther while spouting some nonsense about how she doesn't want nasty words and violence around her boxer. Intended to show her maternal side, this scene just makes Jackie look foolish and flakey.

On the plus side, Shaw is not relegated to the status of angry black man. There are a few bumps in the beginning, but Luther has his head on straight and doesn't engage in self-sabotage.

Against The Ropes is the story of two people who made each other: Jackie couldn't have gotten to be a world-class manager if Luther wasn't a world-class talent and vice-a-versa. The central conflict of the second half of the film is that Jackie doesn't seem to realize that. Luther has to remind her that everything she's done for him, he's done for her. It's not an issue you can see either way; Jackie's just wrong, which she more or less realizes.

Upsettingly though, it seems the filmmakers don't. Before the end credits roll we are only told about what Jackie went on to do (manage six more champion boxer) with nary a word about Luther's future. It's pretty typical of this film's general haplessness that one of the few things it got right, the portrayal of the deep interdependence of Luther and Jackie, is ignored.

The DVD contains two extra shorts, one a bio of the real Kallen, "Queen of the Ring: Jackie Kallen Then & Now," and the other about the making of the film, "A Ringside Seat." The chance to observe the real Kallen is both satisfying and informative. She does wear some crazy clothes. She also has an accent, though not quite like Ryan's. You learn she's really from Detroit though they chose to set the film in Cleveland (which may explain why Ryan's accent doesn't seem tied to a place). There's also a discussion of Kallen's remarkable maternal instinct, which explains why the script tried to imbue Ryan's character with that quality, even though it failed. Interestingly, the real Kallen is married with children and was working as a sport journalist when she began managing. The Kallen of the movie started from a much lonelier and less successful place, one imagines in order to add to the "drama." "A Ringside Seat" is interminably long; there shouldn't be this much to say about a mediocre film, and the obsequious commentary of the film's producer is so ridiculously praiseworthy as to be insufferable.

Movie Grade: C+

DVD Grade: B-

Overall Grade: C+

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