We’ve got Frank Darabont for Stephen King prison movies, Joel Schumacher for films inappropriately set in discos, and we have Ron Shelton as the reigning American auteur of romantic comedy/sport films. This time out, though, his sixth film as writer/director is about BOXING.
Taking place entirely in one day, the morning starts off badly. It’s the night of the next Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas. Of the two fighters in the undercard match, one OD’d and the other killed himself in a drunken car accident. As Tyson’s fights tend to be quick and underwhelming, the promoters need a new pair of brawlers FAST, so they call two guys they know are available.
They are best friends Vince Boudreau (Woody Harrelson) and Cæsar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas). Both title contenders in their weight class at one time, each was scarred by disappointment from an old match. Both are now considered a little old and washed up, but the two pals have never fought before, and the lure of money and a shot at the title lures them to Vegas.
They decide to drive there and enlist the car and help of Cæsar’s girlfriend (and Vince’s ex-girlfriend) Grace Pasic (Lolita Davidovich). Grace, far more intelligent than the boys, understands she must take them to the fight not only physically, but mentally as well.
Now, Ron Shelton never fails to demonstrate what is glorious and honorable about a sport. With boxing, however, there’s a few more levels of corruption and darkness than other sports. The director doesn’t shy away from this. In fact, he builds up to one of the most brutal fights ever committed to film and part of his genius is to show what has to go on inside a fighter’s head to motivate themselves to keep going on.
The fight scenes alone would make this one of the best sports film ever, if it weren’t for one thing: The rest of the film looks like it was edited together over a weekend. It’s REAL sloppy. Lucy Liu gets major billing but is barely in the movie. I could never tell why she was really there, other than to pump up the energy of the film for just a moment. We have no idea who Vince, Cæsar, or Grace are until they’re in a car on their way to Vegas. Grace decides on the “scenic” route (note: never, ever take the “scenic” route between L.A. and Vegas) so that the journey sucks up at least half the movie. This drastically slows the film down except when Liu turns up.
Shelton has made a film that is, at turns, slow, funny, brutal, abrupt, engrossing and disappointing. I guess that makes it fairly representative of boxing.