What He said:
One random day, I caught this on TV for the first time in years. It is one of those movies you don’t really think about all that often and maybe even forget that it exists, but I always enjoyed it. Well it’s been several years since that day and I was browsing through Crackle and saw this was available. I hadn’t seen this in three years, always liked it, and my review was a little weak, so I figured it was worth watching again and giving it a proper review.
Brian Dennehy is local “boxing promoter” Jimmy Horn. I use the term loosely because he is little more than a gangster. He takes advantage of the poor urban youth in his community by offering them fame and fortune. All they have to do is fight for him and he’ll take care of the rest. The only problem is he practically owns them. They fight who he says when he says, regardless of weight class or health. What Horn promotes can only be called boxing in the loosest sense of the word. As I mentioned, he has no regard for weight class. He will throw a smaller fighter in the ring with a heavyweight without thinking twice. That’s not the worst of it either. The rules in the ring are also very lax. Fighters have been known to pick up and throw their opponents to the ground (Hulk Hogan style), throw elbows, and even kick downed opponents.
Tommy Riley (James Marshall) is one of these unfortunate young people. He has recently moved to the neighborhood with his father (played by John Heard) in an attempt to start a new life. That and they can’t afford to live anywhere else. His dad had a bit of a drinking and gambling problem for a while. He’s ok now, but the damage is already done. Besides being dirt poor, he owes his bookie some major dough. In an effort to help pay for his debt, Tommy takes a job at a dishwasher at a local diner. The diner is where another local bookie – who also works for Horn – hangs out and conducts his business. His name is Pappy Jack (Robert Loggia) and he gets a glimpse of Tommy defending himself against some local thugs. He asks Tommy to fight for Horn. He initially declines, but eventually caves when the pressure is put on his dad to pay up.
Tommy only agrees to fight one fight though. He wants to make enough money to pay off his dad’s debts and that’s it. The problem is that his dad owes a lot more than he knows about. Pappy Jack finds this out and tells Horn. Horn calls the bookie and pays for Mr. Riley’s debts. As a result, Horn “owns” Tommy and forces him to fight five more times.
As he begins to focus on boxing, Tommy starts to ditch work and school, which upsets his coworker and girlfriend, Dawn (Cara Buono). Like one of his teachers, Dawn sees potential in Tommy. He’s a gifted writer and a hard worker. Plus, she’s not too keen on the whole boxing thing, especially considering the fact that Horn’s fights border on no rules.
Tommy befriends a couple of Horn’s other fighters, whom he also happens to go to school with. One of them is “Abraham” Lincoln Haines (Cuba Gooding, Jr.). Lincoln is not a great student like Tommy. He views fighting as his only way out (of poverty). He is also a young father, so he takes fighting very seriously. Not only is he his own meal ticket, but his girlfriend and baby’s as well. Lincoln is a good kid, but he won’t let anyone stand in his way of achieving his goals. He will fight anyone Horn puts in front of him if it puts him one stop closer to going pro. Tommy and Lincoln are two of Horn’s best fighters, so you can see where this is going.
Gladiator has always reminded me of Over The Top (review here), because it’s one of those movies that is cheesy, fun, and somehow manages to have heart too. It’s even kind of motivational. The movie can be hokey as hell at times, but you also find yourself pumping your first and yelling “F yeah!” despite that.
The cast is filled with colorful characters. You’ve got your seedy gangsters in Dennehy and Loggia – and boy are they bastards. They offer these poverty stricken kids the path to fame and fortune, but treat them like property. They won’t hesitate to discard you either if they think you are no longer of value to them. Then you’ve got Lincoln, who is really a good kid deep down, but also looking out for his family. He likes Tommy, but will try to bury him if he’s forced to face him in the ring. Ossie Davis plays the old mentor. He works for Horn, but doesn’t like it. He’s resigned to his situation, that is until he meets Tommy. Tommy ignites a fire in the old man. There’s also some great background characters too. In addition to Horn, Tommy and Lincoln have to deal with fellow fighter – and high school dropout – Shortcut. Shortcut (Lance Slaughter) is an aspiring fighter and leader of a local gang. He has a problem with anyone who, well he has a problem with just about everyone. He’s a nasty guy and a dirty fighter. So if they aren’t putting up with Horn’s antics, they are busy fighting Shortcut and his gang on the streets.
Speaking of the fights, this movie has great action. The fights will keep you on the edge of your seat and make you want to punch somebody – hopefully a really bad person who deserves it and not some innocent bystander – right in the mouth.
The story is pretty good too. I really find myself rooting for Tommy and Lincoln whenever I watch it.
And I can’t ignore Brian Dennehy’s outfit at the end of the movie. You will know exactly what I’m talking about when you see it. It’s comedic gold.
Verdict: Thumbs up.
This movie review was written on April 5, 2011. It was updated on April 14, 2014.