June 03, 2005

Cinderella Man

Directed by Ron Howard Starring Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger and Paul Giamatti

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Sorry to inform all you Caddyshack fans: Cinderella Man isn't a film based on Carl Spackler or an adaptation of Bill Murray's book, Cinderella Story. Instead, it's about Depression-era boxing champ James J. Braddock. To Hollywood, the Great Depression must seem like a golden age for inspirational tales. Like racehorse Seabiscuit and fictional golfer Rannulph Junuh of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Braddock allegedly brought an "on-its-knees" America "to its feet" - never mind the fact that he was a mediocre brawler whose successful challenge for Max Baer's heavyweight title would prove to be a fluke two years later when he failed to defend it against Joe Lewis. Expect James "Buster" Douglas's biopic soon at a theatre near you.

As if anyone would buy brash Russell Crowe as a hard-luck underdog or pouty Renée Zellweger as the mother of three, they star respectively as Braddock and his wife Mae. After a lackluster bout that costs the boxer his license, they must live on welfare, drink watered-down milk, sell everything they own and send their kids to live with relatives. But Braddock soon gets a second chance. "I had a run of bad luck. This time I know what I'm fighting for." What an incredible Cinderella story! This unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack at Madison Square Garden! The normally reserved New York crowd going wild for this young Cinderella! He's come out of nowhere! He's the Cinderella boy! The Cinderella story! Out of nowhere! A dock worker now about to become the heavyweight champion!

With The Contender on television weekly, this kind of feel-good Rocky story has already become stale. Batman & Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsman again supplies tripe like "Every time you get hit, it feels like I'm getting hit", "I believe we live in a great country", and even "You're the champion of my heart". To put events into historical perspective, he has the characters reciting newspaper articles verbatim. It's also difficult to fathom someone as established as Ron Howard blatantly stealing the cut, fade, focus pulling, freeze frame and slow motion from Raging Bull. Unlike Scorsese's Bull and Mann's Ali - but just like Sheridan's The Boxer and Jewison's The Hurricane - Cinderella Man has a saintly protagonist, a manipulative storyline and a schmaltzy message that become suspect early on. Long before the clock strikes midnight, the film has already turned into a pumpkin.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.