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Against the Ropes

Starring Meg Ryan
Written by Cheryl Edwards
Inspired by the life of Jackie Kallen
Directed by Charles S. Dutton

IN SHORT: Count it out. It's a dud. [Rated PG-13 for Crude Language, Violence, Brief Sensuality & Some Drug Material. 111 minutes]

And the problem facing any movie with boxing as the center of its story is... all together now... Rocky. Against the Ropes rides a very fine line in that it isn't about an underrated and unprepared boxer until it gets to the climactic third act. What it is about is one Jackie Kallen (Meg Ryan), a real life boxing manager who went from secretary to name brand star in her own right, so we're told, as the first female manager in pro boxing.

We don't know boxing. We did vaguely know the still-warm-in-the-ground Miss Elizabeth (of the old WWF/WWE, fame) so we planted with no expectation other than seeing Meg Ryan in some wonderfully cut out dresses. That's all from the publicity materials. No sexism there, though there is a whole mess of it in the pro world we see in this film. What we also know is that films which are "inspired by" a true story rarely reflect the reality of the story. A good hunk of the reason we weren't wow-ed by the film story is that our own rules about not tipping any third act surprise gets in the way. To be unfair about it, let's put it this way: Someone loses. Someone wins. Ultimately, everyone wins. When (and if) you see Against the Ropes, what that exactly means will become clearer.

The aforementioned Ms. Kallen works as the assistant to the manager of the Cleveland Coliseum. She, personally, has spent most of her life in and around boxers. Her father was a trainer. Her uncle Ray was a pro. She probably knows as much about training and boxing as any one in the biz, but the biz is heavily corrupt and totally male. It isn't a glass ceiling she faces. It's a testosterone wall. And Kallen isn't afraid to talk back at that wall which, in this case, means a promoter and alleged made man named Larocca (Tony Shalhoub). Larocca dumps a potential prize winner in Kallen's lap dirt cheap, though she's got to borrow cash from local sports reporter Gaven Ross (Timothy Daly) to seal the deal. This will lead to a longer relationship between the two, barely developed enough to offer up more than a plot point to rest some conflict on late in the second act.

The boxer Kallen is "given" is a flat out loser but tracking him down brings the lady into the realm of a drug dealer enforcer with authentic boxing chops, Luther Shaw (Omar Epps). Luther's background is ignored immediately, as Kallen "knows" raw talent and uses lifelong connections to build a team to mould raw meat into pro talent. All the hard work falls on the shoulders of trainer Felix Reynolds (Charles S. Dutton) while Kallen, herself, has to deal with the fact that she has essentially been banned from the sport.

We're not explaining the why of that. The characters in this script are so black and white thin that any further description gets in the way of the "someone loses someone wins" summary above. Cheryl Edwards' script drops story reversals and conflicts on to the screen with all the regularity of a template taken out of a screen writing textbook. It's hard to get enthusiastic about characters with criminal backgrounds, be they good guy or bad, and the heroic characters aren't deep enough to make us care about them or cheer their wins or sympathize when they get screwed. Contractually speaking, of course.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Against the Ropes, he would have paid . . .


It's a T.K.O. Rent.

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