6 December 2016 | bkrauser-81-311064
An Exercise in Pure Vanity
2016 may just be the year of the dueling mediocre boxing bios. Earlier this year Hands of Stone (2016), the Roberto Duran story, slumped in and out of the box office like a welter weight's sparring partner. Now it seems Bleed for This, a biography of Vinny Pazienza is about to do the same.
To be fair, this story does have a tasty little twist. In the weeks after bouncing back from a losing streak, Providence's local champion Vinny Pazienza (Teller) becomes a victim of a car accident that nearly ruins his career. The accident leaves his neck broken and spine nearly severed, requiring him to wear a steel halo for six months. Nearly everyone including his family, managers and coach tell him he's done for. Yet Vinny feels with the right combination of determination, grit and moral support, he can have another chance in the ring.
For all the positive messages that can be gleamed from this film, the failures of Bleed for This is encrusted right there in its DNA. The film starts by straining to make its hero likable going so far as to downplay or ignore any possible faults. He doesn't drink, doesn't lose his temper, doesn't buckle under pressure, never gives up and only sees the best in people. Thirty minutes into the movie the only flaw Vinny seems to have is he stays up past his bedtime and splits his tens in blackjack.
The problem with a character so determined is there's absolutely no risk. The character arc (if you can say there is one) is calcified; the audiences never surprised nor worried for our beleaguered hero. The unthinkable happens and Vinny's prescription isn't anything new just a concentrated dose of the exact same stick-to-itiveness that made him great in the first place.
Miles Teller for all his charisma can't help but exude smugness as our demigod protagonist. "The scariest thing about giving up is it's easy," he says, with the authority of a bumper sticker. Indeed, nearly everything he says apes your average Tony Robbins symposium. Yet none of it is for his family, his friends or his coach Kevin (Eckhart) who is in sore need of a "coming to God" moment. Nope, it's all for him to keep himself motivated and doing what he claims is easy.
For his work, Eckhart is completely unrecognizable in this film. Gone is the Grecian bod of your girlfriend's hot dad – replaced instead with a receding hairline, a beer belly and a thick New England accent. Without really trying to Eckhart vastly improves nearly every scene he's in and once he's introduced, every time he's not on screen there's an Eckhart shaped hole in the firmament. Call this performance a dark horse contender for Best Supporting Actor, which could've gathered momentum if all of Kevin's redemption scenes weren't so obviously left on the cutting room floor.
As it stands, Bleed for This is an effective motivational poster but not a very good movie. There's little to root for and little tension other than the climactic bout between Pazianza and Duran. Yet even then, the film leans a bit too much on tired boxing film clichés to be memorable and doesn't have the dimensionality of Hands of Stone to keep the audience riveted.