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Friday, February 20, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Movie Review
Featherweight characters score no hits in boxing drama 'Ropes'

By Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times movie critic

Meg Ryan plays Jackie Kallen, the first successful female boxing manager, in "Against the Ropes."
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Wait a minute, you're saying — haven't I seen this Meg-Ryan-Does-Boxing movie before? Last year, maybe? Well, yes and no. "Against the Ropes" has been kicking around for a while; filmed in 2002 and almost released in spring 2003. It was yanked from release at the last minute (reportedly because of concerns over marketing it while the war against Iraq dominated headlines) and sat on the shelf for a year, but the trailer and posters remained in circulation.

So that explains the déjà-vu feeling that "Against the Ropes" engenders; unfortunately, it persists even after watching it. Because yes, you have seen this movie before. It's the one where somebody who doesn't know what she's doing decides to follow her dream, screws up and then redeems herself. It's the one that's meant to be inspiring but ends up being a muddle. It's the one in which a woman tries to enter a man's world but is depicted as too vain and self-centered to succeed. And it's the one for which you can easily write the ending after about 10 minutes — and you'd be right.

"Against the Ropes" is "inspired by the life of" Jackie Kallen, the first successful female manager in the history of professional boxing. But, according to what the press kit cheerfully tells us, the movie bears no resemblance to Kallen's life whatsoever. (Presumably she doesn't mind; she's listed as an associate producer.)

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer

"Against the Ropes," with Meg Ryan, Omar Epps, Tony Shalhoub, Tim Daly, Kerry Washington, Joe Cortese, Charles S. Dutton. Directed by Dutton, from a screenplay by Cheryl Edwards. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13 for crude language, violence, brief sensuality and some drug material. Several theaters.

The real Kallen was a successful sportswriter, owner of a PR firm and a middle-age married mom when she entered the boxing realm; the movie's Jackie (Ryan) is a single thirtysomething who dresses like Elvira and works as a secretary at the Cleveland Coliseum. She can make it as a boxing manager, though, because she just knows it. Jackie soon hooks up with a promising boxer named Luther (Omar Epps) and a veteran trainer (Charles S. Dutton, who also directs the film), and off they go on the road to glory.

But that road turns out to be as bumpy as Ryan's oddly unplaceable accent (which varies from scene to scene), and Cheryl Edwards' screenplay doesn't give us any reason to care.

We watch as Jackie becomes increasingly seduced by fame — but is she genuinely consumed with ambition, or just naive? The tension between her and Luther seems entirely mechanical, too obviously a screenwriter's device introduced to give grit to the story. And Dutton relies heavily on Michael Kamen's generic score to signal emotion, rather than on his cast.

Ultimately, you've seen it before, and there's no reason to see it again. Let's hope the real Jackie Kallen's life is more inspiring than this.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or


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