By Bill Simmons
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
ON "UNDISPUTED"
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:

  • Ving Rhames plays the heavyweight champ (George "The Iceman" Chambers), thrown in jail after one of those Tyson-esque "Did he rape her or didn't he?" interludes with an attractive groupie. Hey, everyone loves Ving Rhames, even if he always just plays Ving Rhames ... he'll be living off Marcellus Wallace for another 10 years, one of those rare movie characters who easily could have been spun off into an hourlong show. Step aside, Butch. Gotta love Ving Rhames.

  • Wesley Snipes plays the prison champ (Monroe Hutchens). I'm a little tired of Wesley at this point, but at least it was enjoyable to watch him break Omar Epps' record of "Most Appearances in a Sports Movie." Think about it. "Major League," "Streets of Gold" (underrated flick), "Wildcats," "White Men Can't Jump," "The Fan" ... and now, "Undisputed." Six sports movies! That might be never topped. And he's about three years away from playing Richard Williams in the inevitable TV-movie about the Williams Sisters.

    Wesley Snipes
    Wesley Snipes plays the stoic Monroe Hutchens, a former California state boxing champion in prison for murder.

    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.

    Ving Rhames, Wesley Snipes
    Ving Rhames, left, could have played either role, but Snipes got his pick of parts because of his star status.

    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).

    Peter Falk, Ving Rhames
    Peter Falk's scenes looked like they'd been digitally enhanced 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

    ***** ***** *****

    Shaquille O'Neal
    Fire up the VCR, folks, it's time for another All-Star Roast.

    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)."

    Emmitt Smith
    This isn't HBO Emmitt, so hold on tight.

    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.

    Jamie Foxx
    Why is Jamie so good? Like he says, he doesn't give a (expletive).

    Some other memorable moments:

  • Speaking of roasters who went down in flames, Moose Johnston gave a good-natured speech about Emmitt, and it was just vanilla enough that everyone started heckling him -- Shaq pretended to fall asleep, Foxx started snoring, and a red-faced Johnston cut things short and looked ready to kick somebody's butt. I don't think we'll see Moose at Shaq Roast No. 3.

  • Another guy who won't be there: Stuart Scott. He showed up thinking, "I like Emmitt, I can do some networking, maybe even give a good speech," and ended up taking an absolute beating. Foxx, Guy Torry (the younger, more talented brother of Joe Torry, and that's not saying much) and the immortal Michael Colyar (extremely available) all took some shots at him, with Colyar insisting that Stu looks exactly like Mr. Potato Head. Ouch. And after seeing what happened to Doug Williams, Scott turned his routine into five minutes of butt-kissing (the "If I say all nice things about Emmitt, I won't get killed" logic -- very smart move). Not his proudest TV moment.

  • Seeing the Maloof brothers (the Kings owners) in the audience, Guy Torry started taking potshots at the Sacramento players -- mean-spirited, wince-provoking stuff that (of course) made me laugh hysterically. And the poor Maloofs had to sit there and pretend to be good sports. That was fun. Torry also made some over-the-line comments about Jason Kidd's son, notable only because the Kidd Jr. jokes absolutely killed Shaq -- he was slumped forward over the table, practically in convulsions. Somebody should show Kidd the tape before the next Nets-Lakers game. Might get ugly.

    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.)
    (Another NBA owner in the audience: Mark Cuban. Every time they showed him, he was laughing hysterically -- he almost seemed crazed. They should have kept a camera on him for the entire show.)

  • They lost Jimmy Kimmel this time around, but they did land Kimmel's buddy, Jeff Ross, who should be calling himself "The Michael Jordan of Roasters" at this point. You already know how I feel about Ross' work -- he's one of the few people on the planet who consistently make me laugh out loud no matter what they're saying or doing (along with my Uncle Ricky, Will Ferrell and Rickey Henderson). I almost have an unhealthy man-crush on him at this point. And he's never been better than he was here.

    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."

    Jeffrey Ross
    If you don't think Ross is harsh, just ask Bea Arthur.

  • Emmitt remained good-natured throughout the whole thing, although nobody went after him because he's such a good guy (Guy Torry came closest, claiming that he looked like "Honey, I shrunk Shaq" and Shaq's version of Mini-Me). When Ross made his Aikman joke, they switched to a wincing Emmitt, who wasn't even remotely laughing ... you could tell he's a little sensitive. But he handled himself pretty well. As Emmitt said near the end, "They didn't talk about me as bad as I thought they were." Especially when they could have made fun of his grammar.

  • Four words: "Michael Irvin, open mike."

    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!"

    Michael Irvin
    The grammar, the aura, the pageantry of Michael Irvin.

    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--

  • My favorite moment though: During the beginning of the show, Foxx teased Shaq a little before introducing him. So Shaq steps up to the mike, makes fun of Jamie for missing three airplanes that day, then says "I think he missed them because they didn't have anywhere to put those big lips." When the audience laughed, Shaq started laughing himself, the proverbial "big guy who made a funny" and couldn't have been happier about it.

    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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