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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

(Photo by Allen Yee, ©2003 by Paramount Pictures, all rights reserved)

photo caption:
SERIOUS STRATEGY SESSION: Jackie (Meg Ryan, left) discusses boxing strategy and tactics with Luther (Omar Epps).end caption.


"Against the Ropes": Boxing Biopic Loosely-Based on Life of Female Fight Promoter

In the seventies, Jackie Kallen abandoned a promising career as a respected sportswriter to start over in the world of boxing, first as a publicist, later as a manager and promoter. She managed to carve out her own niche in a macho bastion of male chauvinism comprised primarily of tough guys and underworld types. Ultimately she met with tremendous success, guiding four of her pugilists to world titles, which makes her story a worthy subject for a movie.

However, Against the Ropes, though an uplifting tale inspired by Jackie's triumphs, simply takes too many liberties with the truth to be considered a bona fide biopic. For instance, much of Kallen's personal life has been revised to transform this married mom into a coquettish sex kitten. Also, in the film she is a gym rat who grew up around the fight game, while in real life she was never involved with boxing as a child.

Additionally, instead of taking place in her hometown of Detroit, the picture now is set in Cleveland. The film fails to make any mention of its heroine's subsequent triumphs over both breast cancer and heart disease. Also, nowhere to be seen are any of the colorful characters she represented or dealt with, like Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns, James "Lights Out" Toney, or Don King.

Instead, screenwriter Cheryl Edwards (Save the Last Dance) serves up fictional figures imbued with predictable personas. Still, Against the Ropes represent a decent, big-screen directorial debut for actor Charles Dutton (Gothika), who cast Meg Ryan (In the Cut) as the brassy Kallen.

Omar Epps co-stars as Luther Shaw, a street thug, whose potential Kallen recognizes after witnessing him pummel her own boxer to a bloody pulp in a crack house brawl. Infused with equal doses of Erin Brockovich and Rocky, the plot unfolds at the crossroads of the familiar "female empowerment" and "overcoming the odds" themes.

Director Dutton appears as the stereotypical, crusty, hard-bitten trainer coaxed out of retirement to whip one last champion-in-the-making into shape. The cast is rounded out by Tony Shalhoub as a ruthless mobster, Timothy Daly as Jackie's love interest, Kerry Washington as Jackie's best friend, and ring announcer Michael Buffer as his inimitable self.

Dutton's penetrating performance easily upstages the rest of his assembled ensemble, especially Ryan who substitutes a Midwest accent and an assortment of tight outfits for acting. Much fault must rest with the script, for it's hard to expect anyone to infuse much passion into a "by-the-numbers" boxing movie which telegraphs every punch.

In the end nobody's the least bit surprised to see the film progress to an "I'm living proof dreams still do come true" ending with all the usual demons exorcised, dragons slain, and hurdles overcome along the way.

Good (2 stars). Rated PG-13 for crude language, brief sensuality, boxing, ghetto-style violence, and drug use.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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