Anyone who knows anything about the real-life Jackie Kallen will probably find
Against the Ropes a significant deviation from her biography. In the film Kallen (Meg Ryan) is a boxing fanatic whose work as an executive assistant at the Cleveland Coliseum allows her to watch the bouts from her office and do the hang at a bar frequented by boxers promoters and local sports paparazzi. Her big break into the man's world of pro boxing comes when she has a run-in with promoter Sam LaRocca (Tony Shalhoub) and he sells her a contract with a boxer for a dollar. That boxer turns out to be a crackhead has-been but while visiting his derelict tenement she discovers her ticket to the big time in Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) a street thug with the raw talent to become a champion. She enlists the help of veteran trainer Felix Reynolds (Charles S Dutton) and the rest of the story chronicles the team's meteoric rise to fame Kallen's Faustian over-reaching her lust for publicity and her ultimate professional downfall and resurrection.
As the movie version of Jackie Kallen Ryan dresses walks talks and verbally spars an awful lot like Julia Roberts did as Erin Brockovich and like her predecessor she tries to trade in her cherubic image for something a little well grittier. Picture lace-up bodices snakeskin leather minis suits with satin lapels cut down to there and other skintight skin-patterned accoutrements and you'll have a pretty good idea of what her character looks like. Add an indescribable yet undeniably lowbrow accent and you'll know what she sounds like too. But underneath it all this is still Meg Ryan cute as a button with those big blue eyes and the nose that wrinkles when she smiles. There are moments when Ryan seems to tap into her inner gnarly girl but they're few and far between; most of the time she comes off like a little kid playing dress-up which is kind of fun to watch for a while but eventually you want her mom to come and take her off your hands. Epps fares better although he's a bit duller as 'Lethal' Luther Kallen's star boxer and when the ever-charming Dutton who also directed has his few scenes in the spotlight he shines. Less impressive is a tight-lipped Shalhoub as LaRocca whose vendetta against Kallen culminates in a "curtain call" scene so forced and ridiculous it would have ruined the film had it not already been steadily progressing downhill from the start.
Producer Robert Cort says he and the other filmmakers never intended to make a "biographical" film; instead they tried to focus on Jackie's "astounding accomplishments in the man-eat-man world of boxing." For the record the real Jackie Kallen was first a professional journalist and later a businesswoman with her own public relations firm and she represented several athletes in that capacity before turning to managing her own boxers. No doubt that story sounded an awful lot like the female version of Jerry Maguire which is probably why it wasn't made. Instead the filmmakers try a different gambit: They tell Kallen's life story as if she were boxing's answer to Erin Brockovich--the ol' white-trash-gal-makes-good storyline. It's not especially original; it's not particularly compelling; but it may sell a few movie tickets although to whom is the burning question.
Against the Ropes would play great to Lifetime's mostly female audience if it weren't for all the blood and beating. (Director Dutton a former boxer himself has a lot of experience here although from a cinematic perspective this is no Ali where the slo-mo and close-ups of the boxers were poetry in motion.) And it'd do equally well on ESPN if it weren't for all the corny chick-flick tear-jerking stuff.
Dave (Barry Watson) Adam (Michael Rosenbaum) and Doofer (Harland Williams) make up the social committee at Kappa Omega Kappa (KOK get it?) a chauvinistic fraternity that chastises women based on their looks. But when the evil KOK president frames them for the theft of fraternity funds the trio suddenly find themselves out on the street. They must now find a place to stay on campus until they can clear their name and get back into the fraternity's good graces. Until this point the film almost makes Freddy Got Fingered look relevant. Then the three protagonists throw on women's garb and join the sorority Delta Omicron Gamma (DOG get it?) which just happens to be in the middle of a membership drive. At least now it gets funny. For the rest of the film Dave Adam and Doofer become Daisy Adina and Roberta and find out what it's like to wear eyeliner heels and be less than desirable. Admittedly there are some laugh-out-loud moments interspersed in this inane comedy; when a fellow sister enters the guys' room and asks if any of them has a maxi pad because she has soaked through all of hers Adina laments to his friends: "We're not supposed to see what's behind the curtain." Although most of the jokes in this pic are blatantly stereotypical I have to admit that when Adina is elated to find the dress he wants in his size on the sale rack I knew where he was coming from.
Barry Watson has gone to extremes to shed the good boy image of Matt Camden which he has portrayed on the WB's 7th Heaven since 1996. In Sorority Boys Watson plays "the pretty one"--Daisy. His performance however is bland and despite starring in this raunchy comedy Watson still comes off as the angelic one who falls in love with the brainy girl in glasses. On the other hand Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luther on the WB's Smallville) is hilarious as Adam/Adina. You feel bad when he gets laughed at on campus and almost vindicated when he hurls a rock through the windshield of a car filled with idiots. Harland Williams completes the trio as Doofer/Roberta the sensitive one that bonds with his sorority sisters. His character is probably the least original one but Williams still has some of the funniest scenes in the film. Unfortunately Doofer is not much different from the characters Williams portrayed in Freddy Got Fingered and Half Baked. The head of the DOG sorority is played ably by Melissa Sagemiller(Soul Survivors). Sagemiller's character has a sweet earthiness to her and is not your typical bombshell made ugly by frumpy clothes and glasses.
With Sorority Boys Wally Wolodarsky delivers a totally unspectacular movie rife with crude humor and tasteless jokes. However I didn't find myself particularly bothered or offended by the film because it satirizes college fraternities which in my opinion are chauvenistic and elitist to begin with. In the film's opening sequence for example the KOK president is getting ready to punish pledges with something that involves Crisco and hamsters. Crass yes but isn't humiliation what hazing is all about? Perhaps it is in bad taste but I laughed when Roberta admits he is addicted to porn during an all-girl support session and I laughed even harder when it's his turn to clean the bathroom and he yanks a massive wad of hair out of the drain. "It's like a Wookie man!" he exclaims followed by a hilarious impression of Chewbacca. Sure there are some not so funny moments (the duel with dildos is just plain dumb) and their plan to clear their names is completely implausible. But why shouldn't we appreciate a good laugh at the Greek system's expense once in a while? The film would have been frighteningly realistic had the three boys not learned a valuable lesson at the end.