Against The Ropes starring Meg Ryan and Omar Epps, is a melodramatic, theatrical potrayal of the life and times of celebrated boxing manager, Jackie Kallen, also known as the 'First Lady of Boxing'. Director Charles S Dutton seems to have relished the challenge of casting the diminutive Ryan as the impetuous Kallen, a legendary figure and an unparallel success story in the predominant male habitat of professional boxing. The general focus of the film however, relies excessively on the art of feminism which provides a distinct deviation from the real exploits of Kallen, and ultimately caters to the usual cliched storyline that most Sport inspired movies are based on.
In keeping pace with most 'rags to riches' tales, Jackie(Ryan) starts off as a minion to a prototypal head honcho of the Cleveland Coliseum, taking the fall for all his indiscretions while also having to give a ear to his constant berating and belittling of her social standing. Oppurtunity arises when the confrontational Kallen has an altercation with a devious promoter, Sam LaRocca(Tony Shaloub) who fits the bill of a moneyed political shark. The run-in leads to Kallen acquiring a contract of one of LaRocca's bottom of the rung boxers for a mere dollar. When Kallen visits the boxer's seedy occupancy, she learns that her aspiring protege is nothing more than a lowlife crackhead. A bust up convienently places a tempermental Luther Shaw(Epps), whom Kallen percieves as a diamond in the rough and her possible passport to the big league, at the scene of a crime, and subsequently, in jail. Kallen attempts to enlist his services by bailing him out of prison, but she soon discovers that the temperamental Shaw and his street thug like persona proves to be a significant obstacle in their partnership. With convincing persuaiveness and a steel-like mentality she attempts to break through Shaw's self imposed barrier and procure his comittment. To aid in her tireless venture, we have seasoned trainer Felix Reynolds(played by Dutton himself) whose immediate endeavour is to curb the thuggish tendencies of Shaw, and inculcate in him, a sense of in-ring conduct and self -control.This is succesful to a decent degree and soon the pugilist's ringwise adeptness and skill are brought to the fore.Kallen, with her extensive knowledge of administrative politics and the different scenarios that come with the territory, immediately determines if spots on the various fight cards are credible and takes a frontseat, handling all the buisness aspects of each fight. The script ambles on focussing on the various fights that any boxing fanatic would deem downright derisive. Ryan, trying to come off as abrasive and cocky, can only manage to project a Julia Roberts/Erin Brockovich clone which might have been intended. Her attire, consisting of snakeskin skirts, satin lapeled suits with a variety of cuts, lace-up tops and various other skintight garments seemingly validifies the above statement. The publicity seeking gimmick that her character attempts to pull off, is interesting but far from compelling. The bond between Shaw and Kallen seems distant, even though it was discernibly scripted to embodify a close relationship. Hence, Kallen's apparent self indulgence and use of Shaw's status to propel herself into the limelight, is not as highlighted as it should have been. If a depiction of Kallen as a predatory shark was aimed at, all Ryan did was appear as a delicate mouse desperately vying for the big time. Her repentance following the long overdue split, was marred by LaRocca's procrasinated destruction of her stature. This ludicrous scenario further degrades the whole ambition of this film. The incomprehensible prophecised climax will never augur well nor grasp the attention of an observable audience. The scripts of similar mainstream movies fail to realize this reiterated fact. Against The Ropes falls into this category. A fairytale finish is stale and an avid viewer will be reluctant to watch such clear cut films. Unfortuantely, mainstream direction and script writing has remained stagnant with regard to this particular aspect. Omar Epps manages to salvage some respect for his enactment of Shaw, a dull unenamoured champion. He blends the right elements with the appropriate, viable mannerisms that each situation and predicament demands. His personification was the saving grace in an otherwise indifferent acting display. Shaloub represented the miscreant to an opportune degree, but failed to do justice to a role that was tailor-made for his acting ability. Meg Ryan has many downsides which were enumerated above but the singlemost consequential one is her lack of versatility. The genre of romantic comedies will forever favor her, but her other experiments have fizzled and she would do well hereafter to refrain from gambling with her roles. Her alluring, charismatic performances in the films that befit her, has appealed to the larger audience and her quirky, magnetic personality seems diminished to a considerable extent in the recent films that she has starred in. The scripting of this film digresses to a considerable degree from the absolute biography of Kallen, and would'nt have failed so miserably had there been a little less of the tear-jerking, feminising and pedestrian sentiments that we were supposed to connect with. The original Jackie Kallen was a stronghearted woman who survived four world champions. The script would have been deemed as a justified form of fiction, had it not recreated the cheesy unimaginative stereotypes.
On the whole, Against The Ropes is very reminscent of a boxer succumbing to his opponent, a few jabs but nothing substantial to prevent the inevitable knockout. - Abhishek Dey