Can 1999’s Play it to the Bone show us that the sweet science can also be funny? Or is it just a clown?
Boxing has made for some of the most dramatic elements in film history. From Raging Bull to Rocky, the genre tends to play up the pathos, merging blood, sweat, and tears to great effect. And then there’s the few times Hollywood likes to play two people beating each other’s brains out for a laugh.
I have to say, I’m in the mood for a good laugh. I’ve been sick like a dog this week. The Rise of Skywalker was… disappointing. And my plans to live-watch an honest to goodness Title Fight for this year’s Boxing Day article went up in smoke. Thankfully VUDU provided me with an undercard for the low price of free. Whether it provided a good laugh was another matter.
Play it to the Bone (1999)
Two has been fighters, Cesar (Antonio Banderas) and Vince (Woody Harrelson) get the chance to relaunch their careers: Mike Tyson’s undercard fight got scrapped and the promoter needs a fight, fast. The wrinkle is that these two best friends must fight each other for the first time… and the person driving them to Vegas is Vince’s ex (Lolita Davidovitch), who happens to be Cesar’s current girl.
Tale of the Tape
It takes forever for this boxing movie to, well, box. So how does it do? Let’s go ringside for the numbers.
1. The Soundtrack: 5/10 burning hearts. The music is mostly blues with a little hip hop. While they fit the tune to the mood well, it isn’t very motivational. Mostly because….
2. The Montage: 0/10 bums training like bums. There isn’t any training montages. Boo. The closest we get is the guys stretching outside the ladies room while Grace has a “putting on her face” montage. Lame.
3. The Fight: 2/10 guys getting hurt poimenently. The fight is a massive letdown. The first round looks solid, then it goes off the rails in an unwatchable, amateurish, and puerile direction. The camera is constantly crotch level, and so is the humor. In between rounds Vince imagines the ring girls naked, and Cesar questions whether he’s gay by seeing the ref naked. Dumb as shit.
So my wi-fi went nuts right before I got to the fight. I had to wade through all the garbage (see below), change venues, then THIS is what I got? It’s some dumb, extremely unfunny, Hunter S. Thompson crap. At least that fits Vegas, I guess.
Couldn’t Make Weight
One of the big issues with Play it to the Bone is bloat. The film is too long (could easily lose 30 minutes and be better for it) and meandering. Writer/Director Ron Shelton has made funny sports movies before: some of the best, actually. He was behind White Men Can’t Jump and Bull Durham. Both balanced character driven moments (either funny or touching) and some actual sports to keep things exciting. In Play it to the Bone, we get a few fight flashbacks, but everything here is the slow build to the final fight.
As such we get too much talking, too much character building, and not enough to leaven the mix. This makes the pace a real slog. Even other road trip movies sprinkle action and slapstick moments in to keep things moving.
Oh, and the characters they are building are pretty much all shmucks.
Like a Shoe Store: Full of Heels
Almost everyone in Play it to the Bone is a jerk. But not over the top, entertaining jerks. Just kinda self absorbed losers. Vince is a hypocritical born-again Christian, and Cesar is well… vapor. This is probably the least personality I’ve ever seen Banderas ever commit to celluloid. Davidovitch’s character Grace is a self centered wisp, constantly flitting between Cesar and Vince. It’s neither funny nor moving.
The supporting cast are all REAL shmucks, but once again the film doesn’t do anything funny with them. From Lucy Liu’s bratty hitch-hiker to Tom Sizemore’s sleazy promoter, they’re just there to say mean spirited, unfunny stuff. It all feels tired and wasted.
You don’t get the caricature baddies like a Mel Brooks film. Neither can you latch onto these characters when the film wants to play up a story of two friends that are questioning their ability to go toe to toe with each other. The banter in Shelton’s other sports films are much better (he did the writing on all three), so I marveled at why this film felt so dull. Then I saw that Davidovitch is his wife. Maybe this was just a paycheck/favor to the fam movie for him.
Past It’s Prime
All in all, Play it to the Bone is for the dogs. Old dogs, that should be left laying. by 1999, Boxing, Vegas, Road Trip comedies, and almost everyone involved in this film were past their prime. Adding 20 years makes it even worse, as the Hot Topic humor of the late 90’s is so expired it might poison someone.
I’ve never seen a drier, lazier, flabbier “funny” film. Theirs no laughs, and theirs no thrills. Unless you want to see Harrelson and Banderas’ butts, in which case you can just fast forward to the end.
Since this one was a dud, I’m going to leave you with a pick that does what this tried to do. It’s Hajime No Ippo: The Anime. It follows a gym’s roster of boxers as they train, live, laugh, and fight. Ippo is the star, but Aoki and Kimura are the comedic relief members that do what this film wanted to. They are best friends, so much so that Kimura goes through hell to go down a weight class so they never have to fight each other for a belt. They are losers, but in between being the butt of jokes, they get some sentimental moments. It’s both funny and touching, something Play it to the Bone couldn’t achieve. Give it a shot.