Meg Ryan doesn't deliver the knockout performance you'd hope for in Against The Ropes. Indeed her turn as feisty boxing manager Jackie Kallen is in keeping with a film that's fun for a while, but irredeemably lightweight. Making his big screen directorial debut, Charles S Dutton may be aiming for hard-hitting exposé, but he only scrapes the surface of this intriguing true-life tale.
Boxing is in her blood, yet by her mid-30s Jackie Kallen finds herself in a corner, playing PA to Irving Abel (Joe Cortese), the director of the Cleveland Coliseum. The job affords her proximity to the action but she's undervalued, and endures daily insults. Egged on by friend and sportscaster Gavin Reese (Tim Daly), she finally makes a stand and exchanges verbal blows with bigwig boxing promoter Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub). When she questions his professionalism, he laughingly offers her ownership of a contract for the princely sum of one dollar.
The joke becomes clear when Kallen drops in on her new signing, Devon Greene (Tory Kittles), a hopeless crack addict. However fate steps in, assuming the muscular form of Luther Shaw, charismatically played by Omar Epps. He's a debt collector for local drug lords and makes Greene cough it up in blood. But you know where this is headed...
"THE MOVIE LACKS ANY COMPLEXITY"
It could be Jerry Maguire meets Erin Brockovich meets Raging Bull, except this movie lacks any complexity. Dutton opts instead to embellish the story with boxing clichés, best exemplified by his own role as the grizzled coach who comes out of retirement - oh, and his scruffy flat cap too.
Any thread about female empowerment seems to correlate directly with the height of Kallen's skirt hem; more stuffed of bra than puffed with pride. Furthermore the racial divide separating Kallen and Luther, with all this implies for their relationship, is never explored. With so many gaps in the story, Against The Ropes hits wide of the mark.
Against The Ropes is released in UK cinemas on Friday 14th May 2004.