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Against the Ropes (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: One

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: A Ringside Seat; Queen of the Ring: Jackie Kallen, Then And Now; Theatrical trailer.

MEG Ryan continues her journey away from romantic comedy in this true story of one of the most successful female managers in boxing history, but the heavyweight performance she was hoping to deliver ends up feeling more like a featherweight.

As Jackie Kallen, Ryan attempts to do for her career what Erin Brockovich did for Julia Roberts, but the effect, while entertaining, is hindered by the inability of the actress to convince in the central role.

Hence, what could (and should) have been a gutsy insight into the way in which one woman succeeded in a male-dominated sport, ends up being a missed opportunity for its central premise, but a pretty good boxing yarn instead.

The decision to fictionalise most of the story doesn’t help, either, as the events depicted onscreen are more inspired by Kallen’s life story, than anything else.

Whereas Kallen began her career in journalism, and then opened her own public relations company, before making the decision to manager her own fighters, Ryan’s variation begins the movie as the boxing-obsessed daughter of a trainer, who becomes an executive secretary to the director of the Cleveland Coliseum in a bid to keep close to the sport.

Tired of being treated as ‘just a woman’, Kallen resolves to make a name for herself and eventually wins a bet with Midwest boxing kingpin, Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub), which lands her with a contract for one of his fighters, for just one dollar.

But while the fighter in question at first appears to be a dud, more interested in smoking crack than a serious career in the ring, Kallen happens upon the enforcer for her boxer’s drug dealer (Omar Epps) and takes him under her wing, employing the services of Charles S Dutton’s veteran trainer to shape his career.

The ensuing drama begins like a Brockovich wannabe, but quickly drifts into Rocky territory, as Epps’ brash young fighter rises through the ranks, despite being in Kallen’s shadow, until his obligatory title shot, and the chance to win against the odds.

Hence, what starts out as an intriguing premise, and an opportunity for Ryan to spread her wings, quickly runs out of steam amid the usual, bog-standard boxing movie cliches.

Ryan doesn’t really appear sassy enough to convince as someone who has what it takes to trade verbal blows with the boxing world’s heavyweights and quickly feels as though she is out of her depth.

So while Julia Roberts succeeded in transforming herself during her foul-mouthed portrayal of a dedicated career woman in Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winner, Ryan seems to be holding back and only occasionally appears to give as good as she gets in terms of verbal sparring.

Her weakness is made all the more glaring by Epps’ charismatic turn as the emerging fighter, whose career progression becomes far more interesting than Kallen’s, but she isn’t helped by Dutton’s manipulative direction, which seems content to pander to the Hollywood ‘feelgood’ factor, rather than anything gritty or realistic.

Hence, viewers may emerge feeling more punch-drunk than inspired, for this loses on a points decision in terms of enjoyment.

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