Most boxing films follow a familiar pattern. Hubris, devastating defeat, introspection, begging the reluctant trainer to participate, inspirational training sequence, vindication and triumph. This has been the pattern for virtually every Rocky movie and Creed II is no exception. I enjoyed it, but it was all deja vu. Part of sports’ movies appeals is that we know what to expect. The underdog will triumph, even if the underdog is heavyweight champ when the movie begins. The highlights were Bianca’s unexpected introductory song prior to the climactic fight, and Brigitte Nielsen’s cameo.
Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw follows the same pattern, but it is more entertaining due to unconventional twists and Jake Gyllenhall’s ferocious performance. The exceptions are more interesting because of how they deviate from formula. Chuck, starring Liev Schreiber as Chuck Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, who found himself fighting Muhammad Ali almost by accident, is as unconventional as it gets, focusing not on his boxing career, but his home life as a regular guy who lucks out, and dines on his luck for the rest of his life.
Bleed For This, a biopic of Vinnie Paz, is different because of Paz’ remarkable story. He broke his neck in an auto accident, was told he would never fight again, and regained the lightweight title by beating Roberto Duran.
The Set-Up, starring Robert Ryan, is a film noir masterpiece. Ryan’s character is no champ, just a journeyman asked to take a fall in his last fight.
The Harder They Fall, Bogart’s last movie, is a cynical look at the corrupt fight racket featuring Rod Steiger as a fast-talking con man. Should be on everybody’s list.