Against the Ropes
Starring Meg Ryan and Omar Epps. Rated PG.
The best thing about Against the Ropes is Meg Ryan's endearingly tacky performance as real-life boxing manager Jackie Kallen. As a savvy aficionado of the ring--one who knows way more about the fight game than her loutish sports-promoter boss--Ryan plays a streetwise gym rat with a fondness for stiletto heels, jungle prints, and deeply plunging necklines. When she quits her boring office job to manage a promising fighter named Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), none of the guys think she can do anything except look especially good in black-leather eveningwear, least of all a macho fight manager (broadly played by Big Night's Tony Shalhoub) who does everything he can to stall Shaw's career in the ring.
As star vehicles go, Ryan's Kallen is a pleasant change from the neurotically colour-coordinated yuppies she's trotted out for a long string of uneven romantic comedies. Sure, she pulls most of the familiar gestures from her bag of acting tricks--jutting out her trim little jaw to express defiance and letting her huge, blue eyes brim with tears to telegraph an especially touching moment--but her brassy spin on Kallen helps give all those old moves a fresh twist.
Not that this makes for an especially strong movie. Directed by actor Charles Dutton (who also takes on a supporting role as Shaw's grizzled trainer), the screenplay was supposedly inspired by a true story, but the script never lets reality get in the way of numerous boxing-movie clichés. The film's release has been delayed for more than a year, and it's not hard to see why. You can't fault Against the Ropes for wanting to emulate Rocky; the problem is, it tries to emulate the first three Rockys in the space of less than two hours. You get a triple dose of old-fashioned sentiment, betrayal, and greed, all in the service of showing us that Ryan can play an ego-driven self-promoter who turns out to have a heart of gold.
That's too bad, because a shortchanged Epps lights up the screen whenever he gets half a chance. Unfortunately, this is clearly designed as a showcase for Ryan, and the ring just isn't big enough for the two of them.