Rope [1948]

The Rocky formula nearly wears out its welcome in Against the Ropes, a highly fictionalized feel-good drama based on the life of pioneering female boxing promoter Jackie Kallen. In an egregious effort to distill the essence of Kallen's achievement, director Charles S. Dutton (who fared better with HBO's The Corner) has strictly played it safe, delivering a foregone conclusion almost from the very first scene. Burdened with a by-the-numbers screenplay by Cheryl Edwards (Save the Last Dance), the film gets a much-needed boost from Meg Ryan, playing Kallen as a brassy, smoky-voiced dynamo, rising to the challenge when a rival promoter (played with fierce bravado by Tony Shalhoub) dares her to play hardball in a male-dominated sport. Jackie's trump cards are Luther (Omar Epps), a promising contender with untried talent, and a once-legendary trainer (played by director Dutton) coaxed out of retirement to guide Luther to the middleweight championship. No surprises here, just a handful of energetic performances, an abundance of raw ambition, obligatory setbacks, and the nagging feeling that you've seen it all before. --Jeff Shannon

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