A biopic inspired by true events in the life of renowned boxing manager Jackie Kallen, a middle-aged Jewish mother from Michigan, who guided the careers of several, hi-profile, professional boxers, including four world champions such as: middleweight champ James "Lights Out" Toney, as well as Bronco McKart, and Thomas Hearns. The drama focuses on her relationship with one boxer, in particular, Luther Shaw, a light-heavyweight contender from the inner-city, whose life and career Kallen helped to turn around; and likewise, Kallen's life and career came into focus due to Shaw and his influence on her growth. In real life, Kallen eventually left her husband of 30 years, and moved to Los Angeles, becoming the commissioner of the International Female Boxers Association.
In this flat-footed feminist fight picture, Meg Ryan, with a grating Midwestern accent, plays the real-life boxing manager Jackie Kallen as a kind of ringside Erin Brockovich, with sexy clothes and endless gumption. Starting out as an underappreciated executive assistant (whose boss runs the Cleveland Coliseum), Jackie storms the all-male world of professional boxing with a rough, hard-punching middleweight named Luther Shaw (Omar Epps). The script is pretty much one cliché after another, and Charles S. Dutton's direction, in both the dramatic scenes and the fight sequences, is workmanlike, but some interesting and complex issues of race, ambition and masculinity hover over the cheery, inspirational story like a cloud of cigar smoke. Some of the performances — notably Tony Shalhoub as Jackie's dapper, vicious nemesis and Kerry Washington as her sidekick (and Luther's love interest) — have an idiosyncratic flair sadly missing from the picture as a whole. — A. O. Scott
2004-02-20 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of Against the Ropes