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—plays...one 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
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
Comments? Drop me a line at
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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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