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Against The Ropes

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Against The Ropes

Cast:

Against The Ropes was inspired by the life of Detroit native Jackie Kallen, a tough-willed Jewish woman who broke into the boys' club of professional boxing and managed several prominent fighters, including four-time middleweight champion James "Lights Out" Toney. She started as an entertainment journalist, worked as a publicist for world-champion boxer Thomas Hearns, beat breast cancer twice, and served as commissioner of the International Female Boxers Association. But aside from the part about managing boxers, her biography never makes it into the movie. As played by Meg Ryan, whose brassy femininity owes more than a little to Erin Brockovich, Kallen is no longer Jewish, hails from Cleveland, starts as an executive secretary at a sports arena, and discovers a world-class fighter by a coincidence so absurd that it's not worth dignifying with an explanation. The problem with Against The Ropes isn't that it treats the word "inspired" so loosely, but that it uses dramatic license to remove all the interesting aspects of Kallen's story. Following the arc of dozens of other underdog-made-good sports movies, actor-director Charles Dutton and screenwriter Cheryl Edwards approach Kallen's life like a cookie cutter approaches dough: They keep the small amount that they need and throw out all the delicious excess. It seems almost perverse to soft-pedal a character tough enough to scrape her way into the sleaziest, most male-dominated sport in the business, but a truer portrait of Kallen might have made Ryan seem even more out of her depth. As it is, Ryan looks distinctly uncomfortable belting out salty one-liners while wearing low-cut dresses and going toe-to-toe with greasy characters like the one played by Tony Shalhoub, who steals the film as an unscrupulous promoter who lords over the city. After quitting her job at the arena, Ryan risks everything on Omar Epps, a raw, volatile middleweight prospect who dominates undercards across the Midwest before getting a shot at Shalhoub's champion. Though he's a composite, Epps' character was based largely on Toney, who by all accounts was (and continues to be) an indefatigable motormouth, given to windy tirades against anyone who wronged him, especially the press. True to form, Against The Ropes favors a much tamer version of the real thing, never getting into the deep fissures that led to the real-life Kallen's long estrangement with Toney. Right up to the ludicrous finale and an even more improbable denouement, everything rings Hollywood-false. More galling still, the filmmakers' inventions take the zing out of the facts.