D: Lorenzo Doumani; with Maria Conchita Alonso, Tony Burton, Ralph Cooper, Sophia Adella Hernandez, William McNamara, Tony Plana, Eduardo Yañez, Paul Winfield. (PG-13, 103 min.)
The history of boxing cinema is littered with enough TKOs from Huntz Hall and the Dead End Kids' occasional dustup to umpteen versions of Body and Soul to fill a ring three times the size of Madison Square Garden. For every Raging Bull there are plenty of Play it to the Bones, and for every Rocky there's a Rocky 2-5. We're apparently going through a minor boxing-film renaissance right about now, with Sundance favorite Girlfight, The Hurricane, the aforementioned Woody Harrelson/Antonio Banderas vehicle, and even Ridley Scott's upcoming Gladiator, which may not be boxing per se but has enough bare-chested brawlers to make the cut in my book. Knockout, which has taken a while to see the light of day (and rightly so), falls squarely in the traditional prizefight-film category; so squarely, in fact, that it could be used as a textbook for how not to shoot your sweaty ring epic. Doumani, who also wrote the film, cribs a page from every Thirties and Forties-era fisticuffs film and runs them together with such crazy gusto that I wondered if this weren't some sort of elaborate hoax. It's doubtful that the forces behind Knockout fully realized just how many clichés they were including: the dying mother, the take-no-crap prizefighter fresh from the streets, the doomed neighborhood cop who oughtta have a bullseye painted on his mug, and the battered and dying sparring partner. The list goes on and on. Knockout'sonly real spin on the hallowed tale of a young prizefighter taking the reins from his father is in the casting of a young Latina as the boxer in question. It's East L.A. instead of the Bowery, but the bruises all look the same. As Isabella "Belle" Alvarado, Hernandez portrays the vibrant, tough-luck warrior princess with precious little soul or wit. Still, she's the best part of Knockout,and you can see her trying to work around the sorely dated material, but it's all too much and she goes down with barely a fight. When her LAPD father (Plana) complains that he hasn't enough time to help the neighborhood urchins with their sparring lessons, you know there's trouble ahead. Trouble, of course, comes when Belle, driven by a homegirl's brutal beating in the ring, decides to enter the game herself. The leads directly to too many Rocky comparisons to get into in such a small space as this, but let's just say that if you like the sentimental tough-mug overtones of that film, you're probably going to find this cardboard fake patently offensive. Not so much a bad film as a badly done series of homages to better films, everyone involved in Knockout ought to be forced to sit through Thanksgiving at George Foreman's household.
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