Movie Reviews: Ali
   
 



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Studio:
     Columbia Pictures (2 hrs. 30 min.)
Plot:
     The true story of heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay, who went on to become boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
Cast:
     Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mario Van Peebles
Rating:
     R
Bottom Line:
     ***

Coverage:

Will Smith usually plays a wise-cracking smart-ass in films like "Men In Black," "Wild Wild West" and "Bad Boys." So does a beefed-up Smith makes a credible Muhammad Ali?

Yes, he does!

That should answer the big question on everybody’s mind.

Some Smith fans might have forgotten that the Fresh Prince proved his dramatic chops in his big screen debut "Six Degrees of Separation."

Smith brings all his comedic and dramatic prowess to bare as the artful Muhammad Ali, a fast-talking and talented 22-years-old who won the heavyweight championship from Sonny Liston.

The film opens in 1964 with the Liston fight and follows Ali through his decision to receive Islam, his refusal to enter the Vietnam draft in ’67 (which led to his being stripped of the championship belt), and finally his regaining of the belt from slugger big George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

"Ali" does move slow at times and stalls in a few places, but much to the film’s credit, director Michael Mann wisely chose to make a smart docudrama instead of a "Rocky." But that’s not to say the fight scenes aren’t well choreographed. They are! Mann also made a conscious, painstaking effort to get the facts right about Ali’s life, even down to the color of the trunks and shoes that Ali and Fraizer wore in their 1971 "Fight of the Century" in Madison Square Garden.

Much to his credit, Smith manages to show Ali’s human side in the film, which was mostly shielded from the public. Smith captures the dramatic tension and emotion of Ali being stripped of his belt, dealing with the death of Malcom X, as well as the champ’s weakness for the young ladies.

I must confess to one disappointment with the film. After seeing an advance screening of TNT’s upcoming "Monday Night Mayhem," with John Turturro playing Howard Cosell, Jon Voight's portrayal of the abrasive sportscaster in "Ali" falls way short and is a caricature by comparison.

However, Mario Van Peebles’ portrayal of Malcom X is the film’s surprise. And it would be a travesty if Van Peebles doesn’t receive a best-supporting actor nomination for such a stirring rendition of the slain Civil Rights leader. Van Peebles doesn’t go over the top or take up all the air in his scenes. He plays Malcom close to the ground and humanizes the legendary figure.

With the sensational documentary "When We Were Kings" as a measuring stick, Mann's creative flair delivers "Ali" to audiences with a knockout punch.



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