Directed by: Michael Mann
Written by:Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, Eric Roth, Michael Mann
Starring: Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jon Voight, Mario Van Peebles, Ron Silver, Jeffrey Wright
Released: February 21, 2002
Grade: B-

Mohammed Ali may have been the “greatest” but his namesake movie is anything but.  It’s a dull picture that offers little in-depth insight into the Ali and his accomplishments.  The film bypasses Ali’s upbringing and picks up in 1964 as he bursts onto the boxing scene by claiming the world title.  It’s a lengthy intro but once completed, the film moves into its darker chapter.

Ali was drafted by the U.S. Army but refused to do his service on the grounds of his Muslim beliefs.  He was sentenced to five years jail but thanks to the American appeals process, he never actually served any time behind bars.  Just as important though, his boxing licence was revoked and he could no longer compete in the sport that had made him the “champ”.

Still the outspoken one, Ali’s wealth dried up and his marriage failed.  All he wanted was a chance to prove himself again in the ring and thanks to heavy lobbying and the help of sports journalist Howard Cosell (Voight), he would get his chance.  Under the management of Don King, a fight was set up in Zaire against the new undefeated world champ, George Foreman.  It would become known as the “rumble in the jungle”.

It chokes me up to say this but Will Smith is the best aspect of Ali.  Until this point, I have loathed Smith’s acting ability.  After a lucrative start to his career in Six Degrees Of Separation, he has fallen with a series of unintelligent roles requiring nothing more than an occasional unfunny sarcastic remark.  Those looking for examples should watch Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men In Black, Enemy Of The State and Wild Wild West.  Notably, Smith’s accent is on the money in Ali and it’s evident he spent much time in the ring to mimic his style to that of the man himself.  I can no longer deny that Smith is worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Jon Voight is the other of the cast to be nominated this year but his performance is short and limited.  Sure he’s unrecognisable (a job he’s good at ala: U-Turn) but just because he wears a silly toupee does mean he’s acting well.  Jamie Foxx the real standout of the supporting cast.

Having loved Heat and The Insider, I expected more from director Michael Mann.  The boxing scenes are not exciting and the film’s dramatic moments are not passionate.  The fragmented screenplay (to which Mann was a co-writer) is also a huge let down.  The film tries to tell too much of Ali’s story and much of the middle resembles a muddle of events.  And what was with all those long musical numbers?

By the 2 hour mark, I was ready to knock myself out but sadly had to sit there until the full 156 minutes had expired.  I am not disrespecting the achievements of Mohammed Ali because I know he has done much positive for this world.  Rather, I am trashing this interpretation of his life that tells us nothing at all about a man who is so intriguing.  The Academy Award winning documentary, When We Were Kings, is an undeniably better film to watch if your looking for the real Ali story.  It makes this film look vastly inferior.