Movie Review
Against the Ropes
Against the Ropes poster
By Lee Tistaert     Published February 21, 2004
US Release: February 20, 2004

Directed by: Charles Dutton
Starring: Meg Ryan , Omar Epps , Skye McCole Bartusiak , Tony Shalhoub

Running Time: 80 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $5,882,000
77 of 120
The story is very cliche and predictable, as its target audience doesn?t even need to see the movie to get its point.
Against the Ropes is the latest underdog sports movie in which an unappreciated character believes in someone else?s potential, with everyone around them in disbelief. There are movies that apply this formula believably without frustrating the viewer through extreme predictability and sentimental storytelling. Unfortunately, Against the Ropes isn?t one of them.

The problem with Against the Ropes is that every plot device involved has been seen in every other underdog story of its genre. There aren?t any surprises and the story is very simple, purely offering a connect-the-dots premise in order to divert any moviegoers who don?t ask for a whole lot in return.

Had Meg Ryan not been attached and had casting been a problem, this movie probably would have premiered on television rather than simply being delayed in theaters. The project has been hopping around on the release schedule for over a year, which is usually a surefire sign that the movie sucks; sometimes such a scenario is proven wrong and the studio just screwed up in their distribution ? Against the Ropes joins the club on the former.

Based on the life of boxing coach, Jackie Kallen (whom Meg Ryan portrays), Against the Ropes follows Kallen?s aspiration to take a struggling young boxer, Luther Shaw (Omar Epps), and give him the guidance and training needed to reach his dreams. Simultaneously, a competing coach named Larocca (Tony Shalhoub) makes a bet that she will not achieve her goals, and arranges for one of his own boxers to challenge Shaw during the big showdown.

While there have been worse movies than Against the Ropes, it?s about as brainless as you can go in its genre. The way the movie is written, the audience is expected to instantly like Kallen right from the start, which means that a figure like Meg Ryan is essential for the audience to connect with. We don?t learn anything golden about the character that allows us to understand her as an individual, as she is simply placed in blandly written scenarios where others doubt her potential and attempt to keep her from achieving.

I do realize that I?m not a woman, and considering that the film?s theme deals with female inequality in the boxing ring, some people might claim that I cannot relate to the story. Had the script been written in such a way that intelligently brought up inequality issues for us to dwell on, Against the Ropes could?ve been an attractive film to audiences that sparks discussion for both genders. However, the story is just very clich? and predictable, as its target audience doesn?t even need to see the movie to get its point.

Against the Ropes is directed by Charles Dutton, which is his first directing gig. Dutton?s direction is part of what makes Against the Ropes bland, as many scenes are very plain and lack the tension and energy needed to put the viewer on the same page as the characters. The screenplay doesn?t help in this case, but with a more skilled filmmaker, the pacing as well as the cinematography would likely be a lot more inspired, albeit a recycled premise.

The movie isn?t bad, but it is quite mediocre. It?s (somewhat) watch-able, but its intentions are too light for my taste and it will not likely do much justice for those who want to get involved emotionally with the story and root for the characters. Though I have not been a fan of some underdog movies, like Remember the Titans and Whale Rider, some titles, like 8 Mile, Finding Forrester, and The Karate Kid win my vote because they don?t preach and the stories are not all about the predictable end result.

Against the Ropes isn?t entirely about the end result, but its attempt to take the audience on an emotional journey to reach the end result just doesn?t work; it wants to be about ?something,? but doesn?t go the distance. There might be an interesting story behind Against the Ropes to document on, but there isn?t any attempt within the writing to do anything else other than tell us what we already know.
Lee's Grade: C
Ranked #77 of 120 between Shall We Dance? (#76) and Laws of Attraction (#78) for 2004 movies.
Lee's Overall Grading: 3025 graded movies
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