Volume 95, Issue 54

Tuesday, January 9, 2002
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Ocean's Eleven

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Vanilla Sky


The Royal Tenenbaums

A Beautiful Mind



Starring: Will Smith, John Voigt, Jamie Foxx

Directed By: Michael Mann

Three stars (out of five)

Biographical films often rely on the talent of Hollywood actors to add flare to the facts of a historical figure's life. The simple truth that hinders director Michael Mann's Ali is that no actor could hope to equal the splendor or savvy of the original character, let alone add to it.

Will Smith should be applauded for his attempt to re-create the controversial combination of fists and words that defines boxing icon Muhammad Ali. He looks, talks and dances like Ali, but there's just no way to manufacture the kind of charisma Ali had during his days in the ring.

Both Smith's and Jamie Foxx's performances (as Ali's spiritual sidekick Drew "Bundini" Brown), are redeeming factors for a movie that never really gives its audience a reason to root for Ali, other than the fact he's Ali.

The relationships in Ali are underdeveloped. Little explanation is given for the deterioration of the relationship between Ali and Malcolm X and subsequently with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam.

No depiction of the bitter verbal tirades Ali unleashed on fellow boxer Joe Frazier is given. In fact, other than a few friendly "What's Joe Smokin" comments, Mann seems to give the impression Ali has a soft spot for Frazier and vice-versa.

The boxing scenes in Ali are well-crafted. Mann does a superb job of scripting the fights and Smith carries out the routines with sting and precision, but this diverts too much focus from the facets of Ali's life that are most intriguing to the passive viewer.

His greatest victories came against an unjust war and the inspiration he provided for people from Africa to the Arctic. Mann doesn't fully explore how a man who is dyslexic and had trouble reading could educate so many.

If you want to see Will Smith do a princely, yet unfulfilling job of portraying a legend, see Ali.

If you want a real glimpse at why Muhammad Ali was The Greatest, stay home and rent When We Were Kings from your local video store.

–Ryan Dixon

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Copyright The Gazette 2001