Against the Ropes is the second sports flick I've attended recently. The other, Miracle, seemed the type only the sports enthusiast or sappy family movie lover would get into. And I was wrong. When Against the Ropes looked like an interesting mix of woman-makes-good-in-the-old-boys-club, triumph of will and rise from poverty, and sports flick, I was ready to embrace the less than excited boxing-watcher in me. And yet, I was wrong again.
Against the Ropes is inspired by, but by no means a true representation, of Jackie Kallen, one of the most successful female promoters in boxing history. Kallen (Meg Ryan) grew up surrounded by boxing and loves the sport enough to stay in a dead end job with no respect so she can continue to be around it. After another humiliating episode with big shot manager Sam Larocca (Tony Shalhoub), Jackie begins to realize her potential to manage her own boxers. Through another mishap, she discovers the raw, but extremely talented Luther Shaw (Omar Epps). With the help of retired boxing coach Felix Reynolds (Charles S. Dutton), Jackie moulds him from thug to champion, stumbling here and there along the way, pissing people off and "…kickin' butt and breakin' hearts…" as her uncle used to tell her.
Introductions to both key characters were cursory, though their backgrounds had serious impacts on how they behaved and interacted in the story. The only real glimpse we see of Jackie's childhood is a 20 second clip at the start of the film that reintroduces her as an adult. Kallen comes off as cheap and plastic, without any real passion (for boxing or otherwise), and as ditzy as any of Meg Ryan's roles, without any of their occasional charm. What little personality we do see in her is imprudent, egotistical or its reverse, complete doormat. Yet none of these has any emotional drive behind them. As for Shaw's complex history, it is also accomplished in about 20 seconds over a dinner. He plainly states a rundown of his crappy life of foster homes and juvenile hall. The subject never resurfaces in the film, nor do we see any psychological effects appear in Shaw. His few outbursts seem bored and forced, lacking any real intensity. He shows no particular love for boxing and yet no huge foibles either. The only personality he has is as gang member stereotype. While Jackie is criticized in the film for implying that Shaw is stupid and thuggish, the film does as much itself. Felix, nearly as important as the other two, has almost nothing from which to even pry a personality. The most interesting character might be the chauvinist Larocca whose overacted part you can, at least, love to hate.
Ryan's portrayal as brassy and smart, yet sleazily dressed brought Erin Brockovich to mind but didn't live up to any expectation nearing Roberts's Oscar winning performance. Instead of wily and witty ways to use the system to her advantage, Kallen barges numbly onto the scene in stilettos that only get higher as the men from HBO give instructions. As the real Brockovich might have come from the theater thoughtful and satisfied by the critically acclaimed picture, I weep for the real Jackie Kallen, who must see herself on this shallow silver screen.
The plot, too, swaggers arrogantly, thinking too much of itself, but stumbles and, ultimately, fails. There is an incredibly fast jump from poverty to success and very little of that potentially drama-filled struggle is shown. The score implies epic scenes at every moment, but there was never enough drama in the story to make me nervous or sad. Instead, the feigned intensity of the music merely annoyed me and made the story feel the all the more trivial and cheesy. Perhaps in an attempt not to take itself too seriously (certainly there was no danger of that on my part), Against the Ropes did throw in several one-liners, such as Kallen's African-American friend claiming to be "…called in for black-up" when they venture into the "ghetto." Occasionally amusing but never clever, these jokes only detracted from any serious plot that was attempted.
As offensive as is was pointless, Against the Ropes just didn't satisfy me as a sports movie, drama, or chick flick. As Jackie saves Luther from a glass of OJ and ex-lax she proclaims: "It's my job to see shit coming." Alas, it is mine too, and what I've seen just isn't pretty.