“Against the Ropes” (Paramount Pictures) is a film inspired by the story of Jackie Kallen, the most successful female manager in boxing history. Kallen (Meg Ryan), a gutsy, outspoken woman who grew up in a family of all male boxers, has been waiting years for a chance to leave her boring job and exhibit her passion for the sport. After she watches boxer Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) throw some punches in a scuffle in his apartment building, she is so impressed with his fighting skills that she sets out to manage Shaw in the professional ring.
“Against the Ropes” tells the surprising story of the rise of Jackie Kallen and her first champion, Luther Shaw. The film’s director, Charles S. Dutton, also stars in the film as Felix Reynolds, Shaw’s trainer. In a recent Hatchet interview, Dutton discussed the making of his film, Meg Ryan’s portrayal of the famous boxing manager and the real Jackie Kallen herself.
“What Jackie Kallen managed to do the first time out of the block is what most men in the fight game don’t ever do in their lives, and that is get a champion,” Dutton said. “Ninety-five percent of men in the fight game never do. I have known guys who have been in the fight game 50 years, and they have never got anywhere near a champion, and out of the block she gets a champion.”
Kallen’s story is an inspiring one, and the film’s upbeat tone endures throughout. A film from the producers of “Save The Last Dance,” “Against the Ropes” is full of predictable lines and cheesy background music. It is uncomplicated and unsurprising, but it is not trying to be anything more than what it is. There is a lot of banter surrounding “Against the Ropes” as a result of its long-delayed opening, but the film proves to be well put-together and solid.
Meg Ryan’s performance is a far cry from her traditional leading roles in her well known romantic comedies. Her clothes are cheap and flashy, and she speaks with a scruffy voice; yet her concrete acting proves to be the most powerful part of the film. Ryan manages to be as believable as such a familiar face can be in a role so different from her traditional ones.
“I thought she was totally believable in this simply because the real woman’s experience in this wasn’t a gruff, graphic, dirty, smelly boxing world,” Dutton said of Ryan’s performance. “The real woman’s experience was that she would be in the gym doing her nails. Jackie Kallen would go into a gym and wipe off her seat.”
Epps already knew how to box, making him an attractive candidate to play Shaw.
“I chose Omar because he really knew how to box for real,” Dutton said. “But Omar was such a good fighter that when we were training him, several boxing promoters tried to sign him. He would have the headgear on and they didn’t know who he was.
“The toughest thing about this whole film was that there have been a ton of boxing movies,” Dutton continued. “There have been bad ones and good ones and a handful of great ones. We had the luxury of this being different because it was about a woman and a true story. On one hand, I didn’t want to do ‘Rocky,’ and on the other hand, I didn’t want to do ‘Raging Bull.’ It’s not a ‘Rocky’ story because it’s a true story, and the studio didn’t want a stylized movie like ‘Raging Bull.'”
“Against the Ropes” will certainly not be remembered like the classics Dutton mentioned, but as long as viewers don’t have sky-high expectations, they will enjoy the film and leave the theater feeling good, if not inspired.