Film Reviews

AGAINST THE ROPES

By • Feb 20th, 2004 •

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Paramount Pictures / 111 min

First, I’d like to comment on Diane Keaton’s press conference meltdown: I feel so sorry for Diane Keaton! So new to the business and so frail! Draped in couture and feted at the Berlin Film Festival, Keaton was hounded by the press! After all, she was doing “mercy publicity.” Keaton certainly should have been paid, and paid well, to promote a film that has once again given her prominence and renewed adoration after a decades-long decline into Hollywood Hell.

All of us cow herders better wake up! Keaton is a sensitive artist. We must acknowledge that artists are different. God made them special. Do not ask them stupid questions about their craft! Leave them alone to create masterpieces and then shop!

Everything about AGAINST THE ROPES is terrible. The directing, acting, patched together, derivative soundtrack, sets, and significantly, the cast. We are duly warned from the start that this is a carefully structured vanity project: Jackie Kallen is given two highly sought after stand-alone opening credits: an “Associate Producer” credit and a “Based on the life of Jackie Kallen” credit. In Hollywood, these screen credits are voraciously fought for. They are not passed around like Halloween candy.

There will be no objectivity here. Jackie Kallen even appears in the movie! How much more self-aggrandizement does one woman need? Apparently plenty. Get this: We are reminded twice that Kallen “changed the face of boxing.” I didn’t even know this heroic woman was alive!

But AGAINST THE ROPES is not about Jackie Kallen. It is about Meg Ryan & a mop of dry straw for hair playing Jackie Kallen. Ryan never inhabits Kallen. She saunters around, she throws her hair, she flips her hair, she postures. She does try – sometimes – a Brooklyn accent laced with sultriness.

Ryan has given up acting.

Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan) loves the world of boxing so much she subjects herself to working as an executive assistant for a boorish promoter. Kallen finds a guy, Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), and turns him into a champion prizefighter with the help of veteran corner man Felix (Charles S. Dutton). Kallen is so shallow a character, and there is, shockingly, no story here, that the only drama is Kallen’s self-centeredness. Kallen wants to be a star and literally pushes her boxer out of the way.

All the gutter talk you have ever heard about boxing? It is not here.

Directed by Charles Dutton, all of the men surrounding Kallen bark. For no good reason. Shaw is ungrateful. Dutton directs this film from a textbook. There is no heart, no soul, no insight. Didn’t anyone bother to go to a boxing match and get the real lowdown on promoters, managers, and fighters?

There is a legendary exchange between a multiple Oscar-winning director and a newly minted agent. The agent asks the old man what he has done. The hallowed legend responds: “You first.”

AGAINST THE ROPES screenwriter Cheryl Edwards steals this exchange and has Shaw, ignorant to the boxing fame of Felix, shout at him. He finally concludes his tirade: “Old man, what have you done?” Felix replies: “You first.”

Ryan will not play ballsy, tough, or mean-spirited. Kallen’s selfishness is portrayed by Ryan as her being merely blithely unaware. She is just a silly girl with a sexy walk who wants the best for her fighter! Ryan must be liked by the audience and here lies the key problem with the film. Kallen gained respect and joined “the boys club” of boxing. She must have been, and is, one tough broad. How else did she negotiate two credits and a speaking part?

But Jackie, when you linked up with Meg Ryan, you must have found your match. Otherwise, the film would have been titled: “Jackie Kallen.”

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