20 June 2000 | FlickJunkie-2
Good boxing, weak characters
Play It To The Bone' is really two movies. One is a movie about boxing and the other is a comedic character study of the boxers. As a boxing film it succeeds nicely. As a comedy it has its moments. As a character study it hits the canvas hard.
The storyline was sort of Rocky' times two. Two washed up middleweight boxers Vince and Cesar (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas), who are also best friends, get a last minute chance to fight in Las Vegas on the undercard of a Mike Tyson heavyweight bout when the two scheduled fighters are unable to fight. They are promised that the winner will get a chance to fight for the championship, but they have to be in Las Vegas tonight. The trouble is, they have to fight each other.
So they climb into a car with Cesar's girlfriend (and Vince's ex-girlfriend) Grace (Lolita Davidovich) and drive from L.A. to Las Vegas. Most of the rest of the movie is about the drive followed by the fight.
Director Ron Shelton has had quite a few sports oriented success stories to his credit (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump and Tin Cup). The best part of the film was the boxing. The boxing was well choreographed and both actors were athletic and fought like real boxers. Shelton was also excellent at creating the feel of a boxing match. Anyone who has ever watched an HBO bout will recognize ring announcers Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant and George Foreman. Mike Tyson made a cameo as well as numerous celebrity boxing fans (Kevin Costner, Rod Stewart, Wesley Snipes and a host of others). The makeup for the cuts and puffiness was also very realistic.
Unfortunately, the rest of the film was not as good as the fight. Shelton spends a good deal of time developing the characters, but it is all for naught because they have no substance. They are two hapless jocks, obvious mental lightweights, who spend most of the trip to Las Vegas fighting over Grace, cutting up and strutting around like peacocks. Shelton takes great pains to try to make us love these characters equally by making them equally pathetic. But that doesn't work because it leaves the audience without anyone to pull for in the fight. The ending is utterly predictable and the film whimpers off into the sunset with no more than a stagger.
Banderas and Harrelson both gave journeyman performances. They had good chemistry and some decent comedy between them, but there was nothing special here. The best performance by far was by Davidovich who transcended her normal sex kitten role and took command of the entire film with a character that was a flaming bitch on wheels. She was smart, tough sexy and manipulative and dominated every scene. Once again she shows that she is talented as well as attractive, which makes me wonder why she has never gotten more substantial roles.
This is a tough one to rate because it does some things very well and other things poorly. I gave it a 6/10. It had some good comedic moments, but not enough of them. It had some excellent boxing scenes, but a disappointing outcome. And the character study simply failed due to vacant characters. If you like boxing, Harrelson, Banderas or especially Davidovich, you will enjoy this film. Otherwise, enter at your own risk.