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Directed by Michael Mann.
Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Eric Roth and Michael Mann.
Starring Will Smith and Jon Voight.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  12/27/01


Yep, it's me again!  I have been awaiting this one for about a year and a half now, and finally, it is here!  Why did it take so long?  Well, Will Smith didn't want to take this part; he apparently had to be asked SIX times by director Michael Mann if he would play the role.  One can see why Smith hesitated so much before finally giving in (Muhammad Ali asked Smith himself, and that finally did it)—we are talking about the person heralded as the Greatest Athlete of all Time.

But, I am sure that Smith saw the upside to this as well—plus, the fact that he was working with a director that is clearly on the top of his game.  Mann co-created “Miami Vice”, and directed “The Last of the Mohicans”, “Heat”, and “The Insider.”  Hey, I would sign on for this project, too!!

The movie takes place over just ten years, from 1964 to 1974.  Mann seems to only be interested in Ali's prime, with his biggest bouts (versus Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman) and what seems to be the most female turnover (three wives) of his life.  As this is a biography of the world's most famous athlete (save for maybe Michael Jordan), you have probably heard of Ali, heard some of his famous lines (“...sting like a bee”), and know that he was an amazing boxer.  So, what does the movie tell you that you don't know?

The three things that seem to stand out are 1) Ali's charm with the ladies; 2) Ali's relationship with the Nation of Islam, including Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles, who was between shoots of low-budget made-for-TV films apparently), before he is assassinated; 3) Ali's relationship with Howard Cosell (Jon Voight).  Man, that Ali was a charmer—he goes through women in this film like I go through job listings.  As Ali was a Muslim (hence his name change from Cassius Clay), you might know about the X factor, but the film does a good job of showing us what downtime was like with two of history's greatest figures.

But, the most interesting aspect of the film to me was the Cosell-Ali friendship that developed through their stature over the years.  Voight has Cosell down pretty well, and Smith's scenes with Voight all seem to have a different energy because you are just waiting to see what jab is going to come next.

Outside of this, I thought this film had a good number of problems.  The first is the cast of what seems to be every black actor not named Denzel or Halle on the planet.  And, while this is sometimes a good thing, I don't think it works here because I was distracted by the famous people playing REAL famous people.  Ooh, is that Van Peebles playing Malcolm X?  And, is that Jamie Foxx playing one of Ali's corner men?  Wait, is that “Star Trek” man LeVar Burton as Martin Luther King?  Then, there are just a bunch of familiar faces (Ron Silver from “Timecop”, Giancarlo Esposito from “Homicide”, Joe Morton from “Terminator 2”) that make you say, “Hey, isn't that...?” instead of concentrating on the character they are playing.  And, to top it all off, Jada Pinkett Smith—Will Smith's real-life wife— of Ali's wives.  So, I was not too excited to see a sex scene between Smith and Smith because...everyone and their mom knows that they are married!  Something about seeing marrieds have sex on screen turns me off.  It's kind of like the sex scene from “The Getaway” remake a few years ago, with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.  When you know the peeps are really married, it takes a little bit away from the whole deal!!  (You almost want to yell, “Get a room!” during this sequence, but you realize your place and pipe down.)

Then, the fight scenes.  I thought they were just average, and because this is a Michael Mann movie, they take too long.  The fight scenes in “Rocky” are still my favorite ones, and everything else is just playing for second place.  Also, the score for this film is not too inspiring.  I should say, it is no “The Last of the Mohicans”, generally regarded as one of the best scores of all time.  A pop song here and there, with an occasional African chant, is what we get in “Ali” and it leaves the film flat in places.

Hmm.  This film is okay, and it doesn't do anything earth-shattering in terms of its performance.  The acting by Smith, Voight, Foxx and a cameo by Mykelti Williamson (Bubba from “Forrest Gump”) as Don King are all great, but they don't seem to be able to save this one.  Maybe it is because nothing can ever measure up to the greatness of seeing Ali do these press interviews for real.  For a better Ali experience, watch “When We Were Kings”, the Oscar-winning documentary on Ali's trip to Zaire.  You think George Foreman looks tough in “Ali”?  Wait until you watch the medicine ball sequence in “When We Were Kings.”  The guy was a frigging monster!  And, you will see in “Ali” that a brief mention is made about a benefit concert that is being put on before the Ali-Foreman fight; director Mann doesn't show you a single scene from that concert, whereas “When We Were Kings” makes a point to tell you all about it.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09