Tag Archives: Against the Ropes

Beatles, Blondes and Boxing: Against the Ropes and I am Sam

Boxing movies and legal dramas have long been a staple of the cinema. From Fat City and The Set-Up to 12 Angry Men and The Verdict, audiences love to see an underdog triumph, whether in the squared circle or the court room.
Jackies Outrageous FashionsMeg Ryan doesn’t land any punches in boxing biopic Against the Ropes, though her character is at times a raging blonde. A mess of a melodrama, Against the Ropes is brazen enough to bill itself as inspired by the story of Jackie Kallen, a journalist and mother of two, who became the first female manager in the dog eat dog world of professional boxing.
Meg Ryan (Jackie)Played here as a modern-day single female and PR lackey, Jackie is a ball of furious ambition, who quits her job to manage rookie boxer “Lethal” Luther Shaw. Brushing aside mobbed-up promoters and opponents alike, Luther proceeds to tear through the undercards to title contention in just 15 minutes of carefully choreographed screen time.
Kallens GymMeg, dressed like Barbarella and affecting a ludicrous, husky mid west accent, is a knockout to look at, but her performance is as phoney as a fixed fight. After having its release date delayed by almost two years, Against the Ropes bombed at the box office in 2004. Watching it again I felt like I’d taken as much punishment as the pugilists.
I am SamAfter Against the Ropes left me on the canvas, I am Sam backed me into a corner, mainly because I’m a sucker for a tearjerker. It may be too saccharine for some, but I am Sam does boast Laura Dern, Dakota Fanning, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dianne Wiest giving fantastic and under-appreciated performances.
Penn and PfeifferSean Penn plays the eponymous Sam, a Beatles-loving, single father with a mental age of 7, fighting against the social system for custody of his 7-year-old daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning). In his corner we find highly-strung, uber lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), taking the case on a pro bono basis, to prove to her colleagues that she’s more than just a PR-hungry, morally questionable, Porsche-driving schyster
High Kicking RitaPenn managed to secure the Oscar nomination, but how is it that an equally brilliant turn from Pfeiffer was completely ignored? Where Meg Ryan, was in full, head-turning, ultra-glossy mode in Against the Ropes, Michelle played Rita with quiet gusto and the mettle of a woman who won’t pull any punches, even kicking down a door while wearing a pair of high-heeled, suede boots.
Rita and LennonStill Oscarless, her Rita Harrison could have been a contender, but so could Jackie Kallen, whose blend of confidence and cleavage would have been a perfect fit for Michelle. Ryan struts her stuff, Erin Brockovich-style, but as the bell rings time on these rival representations of perfectly coiffured, over-caffeinated, career women, Meg is left wobbling like a punch-drunk boxer!

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Legal Eagles, Raging Bulls: Against the Ropes Vs I am Sam

Against the Ropes is a mess of a melodrama, brazen enough to bill itself as inspired by the story of Jackie Kallen, a journalist and mother of two, who became the first female manager in the world of professional boxing.PDVD_010Played here by Meg Ryan, as a modern-day single female and PR lackey, Jackie is a ball of furious ambition, who stumbles across Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), a raw talent with world class potential. Luring renowned trainer Felix (Charles Dutton) out of retirement, she gambles everything on Luther, quitting her job to manage him full time. Brushing aside mobbed-up promoters and opponents alike, Luther proceeds to tear through the undercards to title contention in just 15 minutes of carefully choreographed screen time.
HBOMeg, dressed like Barbarella and affecting a ludicrous, husky Detroit accent, is a knockout to look at, but the producers are so intent on celebrating Jackie that the film neglects the basics. As her protégé “Lethal” Luther Shaw, Omar Epps is a paper thin pugilist whose backstory is revealed over salads in one short sequence.Felix Luther and JackieDirector Dutton, does deliver one great scene in the third act that resonates more deeply, when Jackie’s and Luther’s ambitions conflict and she makes a thoughtless remark that cuts him to the core. It’s a wonderful moment and it suggests that this film could’ve amounted to much more than a formulaic Hollywood tale of plucky underdogs defying the odds.
Teetering on High heelsAfter having its release date delayed by almost two years, Against the Ropes bombed at the box office in 2004. Watching it again I felt like I’d taken as much punishment as the boxers. Then came the Big Fight, a standing ovation, and bang, I actually found myself moved by the pay-off.

I am SamAfter Against the Ropes floored me with a late sucker punch, I am Sam backed me into a corner, mainly because it’s rare to watch Michelle Pfeiffer play fourth fiddle in her own movie. If you watch I am Sam with your head, you’re likely to end up groggy from the barrage of emotional haymakers being hurled at you. If you watch it with your heart however, you may find the ending cathartic.
Hair and High HeelsSean Penn, playing the eponymous Sam, a Beatles-loving, single father with a mental age of 7, completely transforms his speech patterns and body language for the role. It’s a deeply committed piece of acting, with no single moment where he drops his guard. The very authenticity of his performance guarantees the rest of the cast will look like journeymen in comparison, with the exception of Dianne Wiest, whose talent far exceeds her cameo as Sam’s agoraphobic neighbour.Product PlacementYou can’t help but root for Sam Dawson as he fights against the social system for custody of his 7-year-old daughter, Lucy (Dakota Fanning). In his corner we find highly-strung, uber lawyer Rita Harrison (Michelle Pfeiffer), taking the case on a pro bono basis, to prove to her colleagues that she’s more than just a PR-hungry, morally questionable, Porsche-driving schyster.High Powered RitaMichelle in full, head-turning, ultra-glossy mode, gets to kick down a door while wearing a pair of high heeled, knee-length suede boots, but for all Rita’s showboating, the film never comes close to making a credible case for Sam being allowed to raise his daughter alone. The alternative option of a foster mother (Laura Dern) and a stable family, is counted out. All you need is love.Pfeiffer and DianeAs I mentioned at the opening bell, this isn’t a role Michelle was born to play. If Meg Ryan’s blend of confidence and cleavage in Against the Ropes feels slightly off-kilter, Michelle has never looked more uncomfortable. Rita Harrison could have been a contender, but then again so could Jackie Kallen, whose outrageous outfits were originally due to be filled by La Pfeiffer.Michelle Pfeiffer (Titles)If Michelle and Meg could’ve swapped roles I have no idea who would have done the better job. I only know that as the judges deliver their verdict on this bout between brassy exhibitionists, neither comes away looking like a winner.

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