VOD Review: Chuck

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VOD Review: Chuck

While this boxing biopic on Chuck Wepner achieved boxing-movie Inception, it was ultimately too self indulgent to get a title shot.

I like boxing. The sweet science has been one of my favorite sports ever since the USA network ensnared me with its Tuesday Night Fights program. When I noticed a new boxing biopic at RedBox, I knew I was down for some fistcuffmanship. Chuck is a movie about Chuck Wepner, the New Jersey schlub that almost went the distance with Muhammad Ali. His life is less notable on its own merits as opposed to what his underdog fight inspired: Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 opus Rocky.

While the acting is strong, and the base story has merits, choosing to let Chuck (played by Liev Shreiber) narrate his own tale was an odd choice. Too often he papers over his own faults, or paints his actions in a light that seems charitable at best. Also the boxing is pretty mediocre. At the end of the day, Chuck uses one too many low blows, and I had to disqualify it as a boxing film worthy of your time.

Chuck (2016)

Chuck Wepner is a heavyweight fighter, the pride of his hometown of Bayonne, New Jersey. Ranked in the top ten, “The Bayonne Bleeder” has his sights set on a bout with the current champ: George Forman. All that goes sideways when Forman gets stunned in Zaire, Africa by a resurgent Muhammad Ali.

Chuck
The Waitress served him the fries; his wife just got done serving him his ass.

This setback gives Chuck the paper thin excuse to do what he does best: cheat on his wife Phyliss. The two become estranged, until Don King decides to give Wepner a shot. In a bid to boost Ali’s notoriety, King was looking for a white palooka for Ali to trounce. Chuck was first in line for that privilege.

While the title shot gives Chuck an avenue to reconcile with Phyliss, his new found fame starts feeding all his bad habits. Booze, cocaine, and women torpedo Chuck’s marriage, and costs him the chance to spend time with his daughter who he loves (though not nearly as much as he loves himself). When the Wepner-Ali fight turns out to be the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone’s breakout hit Rocky, Chuck turns his ego driven destruction up to eleven.

A Movie Within a Movie Within a Movie

Chuck is a boxer inspired by “Requiem for a Boxer” a 1962 film about a has-been who almost made it. It informs his identity as a boxer: nothing special, but a dogged man who wants everyone to respect him. That Wepner then becomes the inspiration for Rocky felt like some kind of boxing karma.

The constant cycle of art imitating life imitating art was an interesting wrinkle. It gave the film something more than just your sports every-man getting a shot at glory and ultimately, redemption. The only problem is that Chuck rarely deserves anything life handed him.

15 Minutes of Fame, 15 Years of Infamy

Rocky
“Hey! Don’t lump me in with that two bit tomato-can!”

Chuck is a schmuck. He drinks too much, philanders with no thought for the pain it causes his family, and he is an inveterate liar. He cooks up cockamamie lies to tell his friend (Jim Gaffigan) and to impress groupies. These lies then blow up in his face. He blusters his way into Sylvester Stallone’s good graces, and then bungles a shot at acting because he’s too coked up to read his lines.

All his misdeeds are papered over by Chuck being the narrator of his own story. He states his faults like he’s detached from them. To him all his bad behavior is just who he is, so it’s not really his fault. He uses his fame to torch his life, then uses the ashes to gain sympathy.

I get that the movie needed something to set it apart from Rocky or Southpaw; two better movies about losers trying to get their shit together. But the narrative choice wasn’t the right move. We end up with a movie telling the life of the proto-Rocky, but it’s instead acted out by Paulie.

Speaking of Acting….

Chuck
“I know Chuck, it’s terrible. I can’t believe they called Hot Pockets “Chunk Stuffers” back in the 1970’s either.”

The acting in Chuck is solid all across the board. Ron Pearlman is, well, Ron Pearlman as Wepner’s manager/cutman. Elisabeth Moss is good as Phyliss, and sells the drama of a woman who loves this man but is also damn tired of his shit. Jim Gaffigan was notably good as Chuck’s friend: a generally good guy that idolizes Wepner too much to put the brakes on this runaway train. Liev Schreiber does a good job as Wepner the man. Which is nice, because he is a palooka in the ring.

Heavy Weights, Light Action

Chuck
Oh look, a bum on his bum.

The boxing in Chuck is boring. Wepner was a plodder: he lead with his face and kept moving forward, hoping to get at your body or clinch and get a few dirty shots in. Ali was well past his “move like a butterfly; sting like a bee” phase. He instead relied on the rope-a-dope: getting the other fighter to exhaust themselves hitting leather and elbows.

As such, the big fight in Chuck was dull as dishwater. Once again, this movie differentiated itself from other boxing movies by being worse. After the first round of the fight, Phyliss turned the TV off. You might want to do the same.

All’s Well that Enswell?

*Go ahead, google it. I’ll wait.*

Because this is a movie and not a documentary, Chuck has to end with some modicum of redemption. It didn’t do anything for me. He’s still a schmuck, and that he finds some peace with his schmuckiness is… well… shit. Wepner was never all that likable, and I couldn’t care less that he found some happiness at the end. I’d rather find out how his ex-wife fared; she was the better person in this tale.

Chuck was a middling movie about a middling fighter. Both he and this movie got a shot they shouldn’t have. They both blew it. Now we can go back to not giving a rat’s ass about either.

Chuck
Good for you, Chuckles, good for you.

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