Against the Ropes

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, movie studios quickly postponed films deemed potentially offensive (like Collateral Damage) or shelved features in early stages of development. Once the war in Iraq began, the only film to be affected was Against the Ropes, a boxing film. Huh? Why? The primary claim was that non-stop coverage of the war prevented adequate time for promotion, but it also may be because Against the Ropes is not much of a film. One does need to commend Meg Ryan for trying to break out of the romantic comedy stereotype, but one wishes that she would pick better movies. Together, with her last film, the sexual thriller In the Cut presents two more sides of Ryan. However, based on these two films, it isn't clear if she can make a good dramatic actress or not.

Ryan's (Kate & Leopold) acting here consists of an inconsistent accent and parade of skimpy, trashy, and progressively smaller outfits. The film is based on the life of boxing promoter Jackie Kallen (who has a small cameo), but there were serious liberties taken to make the story more "cinematic." What this means is that screenwriter Cheryl Edwards (Save the Last Dance) takes every old boxing movie formula and throws them into this film, along with some Erin Brockovich type female empowerment. Kallen is a smart, headstrong women trying to make it in the male chauvinistic world of boxing. Local crime lord and manager LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub, Made-Up, Spy Kids 3-D) condescendingly sells her a contract for one of his boxers for $1. She accepts, and through some random plot twists discovers Luther Shaw (Omar Epps, Big Trouble, Dracula 2000). Shaw has the talent, but is raw in every other respect.

Kallen goes to Felix Reynolds (Charles S. Dutton, Gothika, D-Tox), a retired promoter, and convinces him to train Shaw. Blah blah blah, Shaw begins plowing through opponents, and wants his shot at a title, but LaRocca refuses to let him vie for it. Remember, Against the Ropes may be a boxing movie, but it is primarily about Kallen. Kallen is the mastermind behind Shaw's rise to fame (well, that and his talent). She is the person speaking at every interview, and arranging all the press and publicity. Edwards and first-time director Dutton do take pains to note that Kallen is a talented manager, but the fame slowly goes to her head. She slowly begins to feel that she is more important than Shaw, and it takes a toll on her relationship with Shaw and Reynolds.

The transformation from nurturing manager to female Don King is not a surprise, and everything else comes off as a rip off of another, better (or sometimes worse) boxing film. Epps is built like a boxer, but the boxing scenes are not spectacular. It doesn't look as fake as scenes like this used to, but everything still has a choreographed look to it. Dutton also needs to learn how to edit. Against the Ropes moves too slowly at some points, and the relatively long running time does not help. It moves in fits and starts, when everybody knows that it is leading up to the title fight for Shaw, and some sort of redemption for Kallen.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 51 minutes, Rated PG-13 for crude language, violence, brief sensuality and some drug material.

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