Play It to the Bone

Directed by Ron Shelton
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich, Tom Sizemore, Lucy Liu, Robert Wagner.
MPAA Rating: R for brutal ring violence, strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, pervasive language and some drug content.

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 24, 2000

If I had to name one director who has been responsible for the most memorable sports movies, I'd have to say Ron Shelton. His directorial debut was the great baseball tale Bull Durham, and his screenplay for that film was just incredible. He struck gold again with White Men Can't Jump. His attempt at golf -- Tin Cup -- was less inspired, but still enjoyable. Somehow, he has managed to hit rock bottom with boxing.

Mike Tyson is fighting yet another bum in Las Vegas, and promoter Joe Domino (Tom Sizemore) has put together an undercard. The challenger overdoses the night before, and the champ gets killed in a car wreck that morning. In desperation, Domino calls two over-the-hill middleweights: Vince Boudreau (Woody Harrelson) and Cesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas). He promises them $50,000 each and a title bout for the winner if they can fight each other at 6:00 tonight.

Vince and Cesar may be best friends, but they are also hungry for cash and one more shot at glory. They agree, and Cesar gets his girlfriend, Grace (Lolita Davidovich), to drive them from Los Angeles to Vegas. It turns out that Grace was also Vince's girlfriend for six years, before she started going with Cesar six months ago. This new relationship is starting to fall apart, but she still has feelings for both of them.

Apparently Shelton was somewhat interested in making a film about boxing, but his real ambition must have been to make a road movie. I would be happy with a competent work in either genre, but Play It to the Bone is entirely incompetent. It's a 90 minute car drive with three boring people, until the slightly less boring Lucy Liu joins them in an attempt to add sexual tension or jealousy or something that isn't just static. Then it's an indulgent 30 minute film that wants to be Raging Bull, or at least Rocky.

If you watched any of the promotion for this film, you should expect a comedy. It actually tries to be an extensive character study, but it never works. As for the humor, there wasn't a single laugh in the theatre I saw it in, not even a stray chuckle. Compare this to Angela's Ashes, which is being promoted as a tear-jerking drama, but is full of funny moments.

At least Shelton is starting to run out of sports. He hasn't tried football or hockey yet, but those are much more difficult than baseball and boxing films. If he really likes making road movies, maybe he could direct a mother-daughter story like Anywhere But Here or Tumbleweeds. His new lack of creativity should make it easy to just latch on to a current trend.

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Play It to the Bone (1999)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan