Page 2 columnist
Every time my father and I see a crappy movie together, Dad always makes the same face when the lights come on: His eyes bulge, it looks like he's trying not to laugh, and he unveils one of those "Let's get the hell out of here before anyone recognizes us" expressions, like someone who just let one fly in the back row of church.
Needless to say, we were about 20 minutes into "Undisputed" -- the undisputed second-worst sports flick of the year, only behind "Rollerball 2002" -- when I realized that Dad would be making that face. Within another 30 minutes, as the movie got worse and worse, I actually started looking forward to the Dad Face, only because it would be the highlight of the movie. But "Undisputed" wouldn't end. It wasn't a long movie as far as movies go -- 100 minutes -- but it was a long 100 minutes. Like sitting through Jim Kelly's Hall of Fame speech, only longer. When it mercifully wrapped up and the lights finally came on, Dad made his face and we left ... but not before he vowed, "I'm never letting you pick a movie again."
Hey, it wasn't my fault. Walter Hill was involved here, the same guy who directed "48 Hours" and "The Warriors" -- two of my favorite movies ever -- so I'll support anything from him (even if he lost his fastball about 10 years ago). Why would someone even need to keep directing after churning out those two classics? Maybe you just lose your edge. I mean, if it were me, I would just walk around telling people, "Hey, did you know that I directed '48 Hours' and 'The Warriors'? Yeah, both of them! That was me!" That must have been what happened to him.
RALPH WILEY'S TAKE
|Page 2's Ralph Wiley doesn't exactly agree with The Sports Guy. In fact, Wiley called "Undisputed" an "eye-popping, soul-catching, neck-snapping knockout of a boxing film, a quick, square left hook to our collective heart of darkness."
For all who agree, The Sports Guy is recommending a 12-step DVD program starting with the Rocky movies. (Excluding V of course.)
Hill's latest project looked mildly promising on paper. For one thing, every boxing picture looks promising on paper. It's just a rule. The boxing world has goofy characters, characters with nothing to lose, guys double-crossing each other, sex and violence, and definitive endings with a winner and loser. What's not to love? And in this case, they centered the story around a prison boxing match between the prison champ and the real heavyweight champ (thrown behind bars). Decent premise, with some decent star power:
Anyway, that's the set-up. Hill, Rhames, Snipes, prison, boxing. Looks good on paper. So why did the movie suck so much?
For one thing, they made the critical mistake of ripping off "Bad Boys," one of my favorite '80s movies (and still the definitive Sean Penn performance -- for me, anyway). "Boys" centered around an inspired premise: Penn gets sent to prison for accidentally running over an unsuspecting kid during a police chase ... of course, the kid was the little brother of a rival Latino gang leader, who vows revenge and ends up doing unspeakable things to Penn's girlfriend (Ally Sheedy!) ... and, of course, they somehow end up in the same juvenile detention center, with everyone waiting for the inevitable showdown.
Just a classic idea, taken to the next level by Penn, Esai Morales, Clancy Brown (the head prison guard from "Shawshank," submitting his resume for the "Blonde Mullet Hall of Fame"), Poppy from "Seinfeld" and the guy who played Horowitz (who steals just about every scene and was never seen again). And since it worked so well, and since it came out 20 years ago, the creative forces behind "Undisputed" thought to themselves, "Hey, we'll remake 'Bad Boys,' but with a Mike Tyson-type character! This can't lose!" Don't you just hate Hollywood sometimes? Between the way they ripped off the Tyson Saga and the way they ripped off "Bad Boys," within 20 minutes, I was rooting against them.
There are some other major problems here. A script would have helped. Snipes' character was written so poorly, I'm not even sure how to describe him. He doesn't speak, he doesn't have any friends, he makes miniature houses out of toothpicks ... the audience is going to love him! I think Snipes gave up four days into filming and mailed in every scene after that; he has the same look on his face that Paul Pierce had during the final two games of the 2002 World Basketball Championships. And Rhames' character ... was I supposed to like him? Not like him? Kind of like him? Like and dislike him? Was he a villain? Was Snipes a hero? We might never know.
I might have figured this stuff out if my head wasn't spinning from the get-go. The movie kicks off with Snipes beating up someone in a prison match, a scene that gets utterly, completely and totally destroyed by Ed Lover's announcer character. I'm not sure which idea was worse, having a jailhouse announcer narrating every punch at the top of his lungs, or having Ed Lover play that same announcer. Frankly, it's a toss-up.
(Note: After about three minutes, Dad suddenly got up to go to the bathroom, even though he had just went 15 minutes before. His prostate's bad, but it isn't that bad. I think he just needed some air.)
Once the fight mercifully ends, they quickly rush through the "Iceman Chambers is coming to jail" plot, replete with flashbacks and flash-forwards. I think I gave up right about here -- flashbacks and fast-forwards are always a cry for help -- so I left to buy Sour Patch Kids, even it meant missing some key plot points (can you have key plot points if the plot sucks?). I returned just in time to catch Peter Falk (introduced as the connected boxing guru who runs things in jail), which led to this exchange:
--Me: "Peter Falk is still alive?"
--Dad: "He was available."
Actually, everyone in this movie was available, but we won't split hairs here. I'm not even sure how to describe what happens next. Ving Rhames goes to jail, makes friends with Wes Studi (a charter member of the That Guy Hall of Fame), beats up some prisoners to gain respect, and even picks a fight with Snipes (who gets sent into solitary confinement with a year's supply of toothpicks). Smelling dollar signs, Falk, prisoner Jon Seda and head prison guard Michael Rooker work behind the scenes to set up a Snipes-Rhames fight -- how funny was that last set of words? -- which eventually gets greenlighted after Falk threatens the Warden (one of the most incoherent, improbable monologues in movie history ... at this point, Dad and I became convinced that Falk died three years ago, and that they were digitally enhancing his scenes with footage from a "Columbo" reunion movie).
Some other stuff happened here, but I zoned out. Ever zone out in a movie theater? You start thinking about your life, and one thing leads to another, and then 20 minutes pass before you realize what happened? That was me. I came around just in time for the climactic fight between Rhames and Snipes, which would surely salvage the movie. Nope. Not only does the fight fall short -- too staged, no ebb-and-flow, no dramatic buildup -- but Ed Lover's announcing left me hitting myself over the head with my 256-ounce Mountain Dew. If there is a hell -- and I'm pretty sure there is -- something tells me that Ed Lover's shrieking voice is prominently involved. Call me crazy.
Anyway, Snipes ends up winning the big fight, and I'm only telling you this because I never want you to see this movie. (Repeat: DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE.) Falk makes a ton of money, getting Rhames paroled in the process for agreeing to the fight (because that's certainly realistic). Snipes keeps his prison title, wins the respect of the inmates and gets an extra year's supply of toothpicks. And most importantly, the movie finally ends ... and Dad gets to make his famous face. I can't remember the last time I was so happy to see it.
Final Grade: D-minus-minus
|***** ***** *****|
I made one other sacrifice this month for you, the home reader: pay-per-viewing Shaq's second "All-Star Comedy Roast," only because Emmitt Smith was being roasted (after his likable, engaging performance on "Hard Knocks," I couldn't resist). Plus, Emmitt's involvement also meant the potential involvement of Michael Irvin, Quincy Carter, Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Jerry Jones ... I mean, the possibilities were endless. For $9.95, I was happy to roll the dice.
And I'm glad I did.
I'll go this far ... I legitimately enjoyed "Shaq Roast II," a far superior production then "Shaq Roast I" (chronicled in this space last spring). Jamie Foxx hosted this time around, partly because they needed somebody more cross-eyed than Shaq, partly because Tommy Davidson was probably taken behind the stage and shot in the back of the head, execution-style, after the first roast. Hey, I don't need to sell you on Foxx; whether you like him or don't like him, at least he's funny, and he certainly doesn't give a crap. He brought a mean-spirited edge to the proceedings. As Foxx kept saying all night, "I don't give a (expletive)."
For instance, no-name comedian Doug Williams bombed miserably for a few minutes, then was heckled off the stage, mid-routine, by Foxx. You know the phrase "career-ending" performance? Well, Jamie Foxx ended this guy's career. I'm not kidding. It's over. Put a fork in it. Williams dug his own grave by ragging on Foxx's movie career, prompting a slightly miffed Foxx to let out an exaggerated, "Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours"-level fake laugh. Then he just zeroed in on the guy, mocking his jokes, eventually pretending that he was Williams' conscience ("This is your conscience ... I am going down in flames ... maybe I should get off the stage ..."). He wouldn't let up.
Here's where it became painful. Poor Williams had the Stan Humphries Face going to begin with; now, he was totally helpless, unable to interrupt Foxx or stop him from talking. Mostly he just stood there, thin smile spread across his face, allowing Foxx to rip him to shreds as everyone else on stage cracked up. Cutting his routine short, the embattled Williams finally stepped off the podium, but not before inexplicably doing the handshake/hug/"it's all good" thing with Foxx. And they kept showing him for the rest of the roast, sitting there with a "Should I go into real estate ... nah, I'll bartend for a couple of years" look on his face.
I can't emphasize this enough ... it was the most excruciating TV experience of my entire life. Ever been to a wedding where somebody gave an inappropiate toast and went down in flames? This was like 600 times worse. You can't even believe it's happening as it's happening. It left me queasy and sick, like the way you feel after watching one those old "Faces of Death" videos. Maybe it wasn't enjoyable, but it sure was memorable.
Some other memorable moments:
|SPORTS GUY'S NFL PICKS|
|Atlanta (-7) over Cincy: Where do I cash in my "The Bengals find out that Gus Frerotte isn't the answer" stock? Buffalo (+9) at Denver: The Bills are one week away from being officially frisky. Tampa Bay (+2) over St. Louis: Who's ready for the "What's wrong with the Rams?" Sports Illustrated cover next week? New Orleans (+1) at Chicago: It's only fitting that a Ewing Theory team has emerged during the same month as Patrick Ewing's retirement. It's a big day. (Last week: 1-2. Overall: 3-3.)|
Some of Ross' best one-liners (at least the ones I can print): "I feel like I've died and gone to Harlem ... this ain't a roast, it's a barbecue ... it's an honor to be here at the Wayans brothers family picnic ... I'll keep it short, because Moose Johnston did all my stuff ... poor Shaq, he took me to Siegfried and Roy last week and the white tiger started barking at him ... Shaq, you were great in the Green Mile ... Troy Aikman wanted to be here, but he got a concussion opening the invitation ... hey, Jimmy (Johnson), the Dolphins called, they want their deposit back."
Need I say more? Actually, I do. Irvin's rambling speech even surpassed having him just sitting on the dais, where he was more of a lightning rod than R. Kelly. Isn't that a comedian's dream, speaking at a roast that has Michael Irvin sitting on the dais? Anyway, here were my favorite moments from Irvin's speech, centered around an incoherent story about driving Emmitt Smith somewhere:
"The only time you can get a bunch of black folks to sit still and have people talking about them is if they're in a courtroom" ... "Lemme give you all an Emmitt Smith story, I'm gonna try to remember it, you all know I smoked a lot of weed (laughs), it messes with your memory" ... (and my personal favorite) "Some of these fellas up here, I ain't ever heard of them. They can talk about me like they want to, but, um, I got my money ... so matter what you all say, Mike black, but Mike rich!"
I wish I was back in high school so I could use that as my high school yearbook quote:
"They can talk about me like they want to, but, um, I got my money ... so matter what you all say, Mike black, but Mike rich!" --Michael Irvin--
Hey, I'm not sure if I'm laughing with Shaq or at Shaq, but one thing's for sure: When they come out with "Shaq's All-Star Celebrity Roast No. 3," my $9.95 is ready to go. Besides, I can expense this stuff. At least, I think I can.
(Um ... maybe I better shut up ...)
Final Grade: B-plus
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine.
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