Stars: Will Smith, Jon Voight, Michael Bent, Giancarlo Esposito, Jamie Foxx, Ron Silver
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: Michael Mann, Eric Roth, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson – Based on a story by Gregory Allen Howard
Neither Will Smith’s serviceable impression of Muhammed Ali nor Michael Mann’s studious direction leaves much of an impact as to the life story of this boxing champ. The beautifully staged opening sequence goes on and on and that’s the trouble with much of Mann’s direction. He doesn’t know when to stop. What you see is too much fat and not enough meat.
Sure, it’s got the tumultuous highlights of Ali’s career: his name change recognition battle (from Cassius Clay) following his involvement with the Nation of Islam, the 1964 win to take the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston (Michael Bent), his boxing license and championship title stripped when he refused to join the Army during the Vietnam War and his 1974 comeback by winning the heavyweight crown for a second time by defeating George Foreman during “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire. In between the big battles are smaller ones with his many wives which never seem to be explored sufficiently to explain the man and his demons.
Lotta says: Will Smith does little more than brood and scowl, but then again he’s not asked to do much more than that except to throw some punches and play at some fancy footwork. The boxing sequences are far from riveting. Michael Mann seems to be more interested in style than true characterization or compelling content. It’s kind of like his taking a bunch of snapshots and trying to turn them into an epic. No way. The movie’s a drag. Jon Voight, however, is a hoot as Howard Cosell. Also features: Jamie Foxx as friend and frontman Drew “Bundini” Brown, Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X, Ron Silver as trainer Angelo Dundee and Jada Pinkett Smith as first wife Sonji.