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'Against the Ropes' Fails to Hit a Knockout
by Chris Bellamy

“Against the Ropes”
Paramount Pictures
Directed by Charles S. Dutton
Produced by Robert W. Cort, David Madden and Mike Drake
Written by Cheryl Edwards
Starring Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Charles S. Dutton, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly, Kerry Washington and Joe Cortese
Rated PG-13

(out of four)

There comes a time in every adorable, typecast actress’ career when she forces herself to break the mold and take challenging, different roles to prove to everyone she’s not a one-trick pony. Results have been mixed—take Cameron Diaz, for example.

Diaz’s first attempt at her transition was an embarrassingly bad performance as a general manager of a pro football team in Oliver Stone’s 1999 disaster, “Any Given Sunday.” But she rebounded and showed excellent range with her showings in several of her next few movies, especially “Being John Malkovich.”

The latest superstar girl-next-door trying to break out of her shell is Meg Ryan, with last year’s “In the Cut” and Hollywood’s latest atrocious boxing movie, “Against the Ropes.” This is a biopic about the life and times of Jackie Callan, the first female boxing manager to break through the sport’s unwritten gender barrier and find success.

Ryan is cast—or rather, miscast—as Callan, who is supposed to a be a brash, hard-ass New Yorker, but instead ends up looking like Meg Ryan trying desperately to act like a brash, hard-ass New Yorker. Ryan sports a New York accent for the role, but it’s not a convincing or consistent one. In her first few scenes, I wasn’t sure if she was trying to do the accent or if she just had a large piece of fruit stuck in her Adam’s apple.

Anyway, the film begins with Callan as a young child—because, of course, every film like this begins with the hero as a small child. Callan has been surrounded by boxing her whole life. Her father trained boxers as his trade, and she spent much of her childhood in the gym sucking it all in.

Flash-forward to the here-and-now, where Callan is the assistant to the manager of the Cleveland Coliseum, a job she hates, but keeps because she gets to watch every bout for free. After a championship bout between Pedro Hernandez (Juan Hernandez) and Devon Green, Callan gets into a juvenile altercation bantering with legendary boxing manager Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub). Callan says she knows as much about boxing as he does and claims she could do his job. So, LaRocca sells her the contract of Green, the losing fighter, for a dollar. And so Callan’s journey toward success and fame begins.

Callan tries to go visit Green, but he’s a little bit busy doing crack and doesn’t recognize her. So he tries to steal her purse and starts to get rough with her—until a neighbor (Omar Epps) saves the day and beats up Green and his crack-smoking partner.

The light bulb goes off. Hey, Callan thinks to herself, that guy sure could fight. I’ll bet I could make him the middleweight champion of the world.

Ryan goes back and convinces the neighbor, whose name is Luther Shaw, to give it a shot. He accepts, Felix Reynolds (director Charles S. Dutton) is brought in as his trainer and the story is on.

It seems that every scene in this film is more contrived than the next. Every scene has already been done in a dozen other movies. There’s not a hint of originality. There’s the scene where the trainer gets mad at the boxer for letting his anger get to him. There’s the random hug scene, thrown in for sentimental value. There’s the scene when the boxer and the manager have an argument and a near-falling out. And there’s one of those slow clapping scenes that I’m not emotionally ready to talk about yet.

Despite the clichés, “Against the Ropes” could have still been held together had the script been written well. Unfortunately, it isn’t. There are far too many inspirational metaphors that real people never actually say. For example, take these exchanges:

I. “The world is an oyster. You’re a pearl.”

II. “This guy is a Polaroid—he’s out of the picture.”

III. “You’re trying to get to the top, but you’re in the basement. And you’re so far down you can’t even see the glass ceiling.”

IV. “You know how low this guy is? He’s the gum, the gum on the bottom of my shoe.”

“Well, if he’s the gum, and you’re the shoe, then why’s he stepping all over you?”

V. “If you want to run with the big dogs, don’t just sit on the porch and bark.”

VI. Read that last one again.

There are too many puns (yes, puns), and too much empty dialogue, the sole purpose of which is to move the plot on to the next scene.

Eventually, Shaw begins his rapid rise through the ranks of the middleweight division, and we’re subjected to one of those obligatory triumphant montages of all the fights he wins. Simultaneously, Callan’s star power puts her in the national spotlight and causes friction between her and Shaw. The more success he has, the more pressure is on LaRocca— who has refused to let his fighter, Hernandez, fight anyone managed by Callan— to let Shaw have a shot at the title against Hernandez. I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that, of course, Shaw eventually gets his shot and that sets up the third act.

I never thought I’d say this, but after watching Callan on-screen for a little while, I found myself longing for the ditzy blonde shtick Ryan perfected in all of her other movies.

But bad miscasting isn’t the film’s only problem. “Against the Ropes” is doomed by horrid writing, too many sports clichés, a preposterous climax and an even worse denouement. With the exception of a refreshing cameo from the “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” guy (you’ve gotta love that guy), there’s not much to like about this one.

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