Apparently, Michael Mann's main goal in "Ali" was to make the boxing look real. In some ways, this isn't such a bad goal, given that Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" series more closely resembles professional wrestling than actual boxing -- even if Stallone wore a Kevlar vest, somebody like George Foreman could still easily crush him to death between his ass cheeks.
So the boxing does look pretty authentic. There's only one problem with that: If I wanted to watch Muhammad Ali box, I'd go rent tapes of his fights and watch the real deal. The final half hour of the film takes place in Zaire before and during the George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" fight. If I wanted to know all about that fight, I'd go watch "When We Were Kings," a documentary about it. Mann spends so much time tending lovingly to the boxing matches that little else is left in the movie.
Contrary to spin, this film is more an insult to Ali than a celebration of him. Wasn't this guy supposed to be a hero -- the greatest athlete of the twentieth century? Why, then, does a "celebration" of Ali portray him as a naïve, womanizing opportunist? By process of elimination, we learn that Ali's best friends are really the white people around him, namely his trainer Angelo Dundee (Ron Silver) and Howard Cosell (Jon Voight). All the black people seem to have serious personal problems or are trying to take advantage of Ali's generosity. Bundini (Jamie Foxx) is a drunk. Howard Bingham (Jeffrey Wright) abandons him during his draft situation and reappears when it's over. Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles) and the nation of Islam are trying to use him in a power struggle.
Ali seems to go through wives like mouth guards. He ends up with three of them during the course of the movie, and too much time is devoted to him eyeing different women. The movie could easily have been titled "Ali is Horny".
Mann doesn't seem to have the slightest clue as to what made Ali revered, because this picture turns him into a dope who made his decisions on the fly. Furthermore, Mann doesn't put the fights into the proper context. Sonny Liston was the Mike Tyson of his time: brutal and feared. Nobody thought Ali would beat him. The second Frazier fight is missing altogether. The "Rumble in the Jungle" also doesn't resonate. If Ali's story is heroic, there's no trace of that in this lame picture. After this film, I wanted to see Mann climb in the ring with someone, preferably Ali himself, circa 1975, and get a little real history pounded into him.
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