Against the Ropes

Against the Ropes is a vanity project for Meg Ryan, who every now and then, it seems, gets a hankering to play a feminist heroine like her character in Courage Under Fire. The latest is a real person, apparently: one Jackie Kallen who is billed as “North America’s most famous female boxing promoter” — which gives you some idea of how desperate she must be to find a part, like that in her last film, In the Cut, that allows her to shed the girl-next-door cuteness on which her acting fortunes are founded.

And, yes, the movie is as bad as it sounds.

I’ve never seen Miss Kallen but feel confident in saying that our Meg is grotesquely miscast in the role. She tries too hard with everything from the hokey-sounding midwestern accent to the Wal-Mart chic of her wardrobe. Even if you can overlook these, there are plenty of other false notes struck. Jackie gets into managing fighters because, as she puts it, “boxing is team sport,” yet she is an utter loner to all intents and purposes. Though she briefly teams up with Felix (Charles S. Dutton — who also directs) to train her one boxer, a promising middleweight called Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), we never actually observe any teamwork going on. Her only contribution to Luther’s training is to tell Felix not to yell at him because “that is naat helping him.”

Sounds like just the kind of thing a chick would say.

Worst of all the boxing scenes are hokey as only the movies can make them. The fighters all wade in to each other leave themselves unguarded and so as to be able to punch each other’s heads, Rocky-style, and so give us their best, most actorly grimaces of pain. This makes for more exciting visuals, of course, than you would be likely to get from any actual boxing match, but no pro would ever fight like that.

Nor do the problems end there. The action of the film begins — after a brief flashback to Jackie’s childhood to explain her interest in the fight game on account of a boxing uncle — in what is billed as “The Present Day.” Yet it takes at the very least many months and almost certainly years, and we are told at the end that Jackie Kallen managed six different champions in six different weight classes. As at this point she has only the one fighter, we realize that we must be many years previous to “The Present Day” at the time when we are told that it is the present day. I guess this was just a bit of a continuity snafu that no one could be bothered to fix. After all, if you’re prepared to swallow Meg Ryan as a fight manager, what aren’t you prepared to swallow?

Most oddly, although she is dressed like a prostitute throughout, the film allows Jackie not so much as the hint of any romantic relationship. She’s too busy facing down tough-guy boxing promoters and charming TV audiences with her wise-cracking, tough-gal style. It’s as if the movie’s feminist bona fides would be fatally compromised if there were any suggestion that she might do anything more than look sexy to a boxer. In fact, she doesn’t even do that much to poor Luther, who must be more than human not to have any sexual interest in a woman who looks like that — and who passionately wants to make him a champ. They give him a girlfriend, I guess, just so we won’t think he’s gay.

And if you can get past all this, the best you can say about it is that Luther’s story is pretty routine boxing saga stuff, only varied by the fact that his manager is a woman — a woman who looks like Meg Ryan. If that’s enough to snag your interest, by all means go see it. If not, don’t. Because that’s really all there is to it.

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