|Flying Squirrel Boxing Productions|
|The KO Picture Show|
|Presents. . .|
"Oddly enough, the quartet of Woods, Gossett, Dern, and 'Tex' Cobb wasn't enough to get this flic Oscar consideration!"
Film fans, like myself, love to talk about our favorites; favorite movies, favorite genres, and, of course, favorite actors. “The best <blank> of all time is…” is a phrase muttered often on message boards. And just as often, you get “The worst <blank> of all time is…”. People are passionate about movies, being both for and against them with equal ferocity. But I can’t think of an actor that inspires more polarization of the movie masses than James Woods.
I’m not going to state all the pro’s and con’s of the James Woods body of work. I think one thing all critics of his performances can agree on is that he’s not what you’d call a “subtle” actor. He’s hasn’t stonefaced his way into the cinematic world, like a Gary Cooper or a John Wayne. He’s a scenery chewer, to be sure, and that seems to either endear him to you or make you wish you were watching someone else. I can’t lie… I’m a James Woods’ fan. I think the more he ratchets it up, the more I enjoy it. I find him to be the kind of actor that you can’t help watch in a scene. Some may say it’s to the detriment of his co-stars, but I don’t agree with that. And I present “Diggstown” as my “Exhibit A”.
Woods plays Gabriel Caine, a con man recently released from prison. On the inside he was able to occasionally rig some of the prison-sanctioned boxing matches, so now he plans to try and do the same, with the help of his partner Fitz (Platt), in the boxing-mad little burg of Diggstown. But in order to fleece this town, Caine has to deal with the man who owns it (both financially and every soul in it), the unbelievably evil John Gillon (Dern). After some wrangling between the two master hustlers, they come to the following wager: Caine says he can produce a fighter that can beat any 10 Diggstown men in a single 24 hour period. The man Caine is betting on is none other than former heavyweight contender ‘Honey’ Roy Palmer (Gossett). Caine believes the past-his-prime, 46 year old Palmer still has enough in the tank and enough tricks up his sleeves to beat a bunch of hick amateurs (Gossett, who was 56 at the time, is passable as a man 10 years younger). Palmer agrees to do it, Gillon accepts Caine’s combatant, both men shake on it, and then immediately start trying to fix things in their favor, as con men are wont to do. The stage is set to see who can outslick the other, with Palmer waging war inside the ropes, and Caine and Gillon battling outside them.
This brings me to my arguments “for” Woods. He has great chemistry with his partners in crime, Oliver Platt and Lou Gossett Jr. In what could have been a very clichéd “buddy comedy” kind of construct, these 3 keep it fresh and seem to be having fun. Also, I feel that Woods is able to exist comfortably in this picture with another renowned ham, Bruce Dern. They both have their individual moments of near lunacy in regards to realistic human beings and how they act, but it’s inspired lunacy and I like it. No one could be as cool under pressure as Wood’s Caine is, or as purely evil as Dern’s Gillon, but come on people! That’s what the movies are all about! Suspension of disbelief!
In fact, the biggest problems that I could see were in the attempts to bring reality or a degree of gravity to the proceedings. Subplots involving Caine’s relationship with one of his prison fighters (Cobb) and the fighter’s sister (Graham) just bog the picture down. And a side story involving the namesake of Diggstown, Charles Macum Diggs, a former boxer who is now wheelchair-bound and mute due to the ravages of the ring, borders on the ridiculous. Thankfully the plot steers away from these somber landmines and just deals out more of the snappy banter and boxing action that we came to see.
The Fightin' - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
Let's be honest here folks... the idea of 1 man (let alone a 46 year old one) fighting
10 able-bodied men in a single 24 hour period pretty much throws any hope for boxing realism out the window. The aforementioned "suspension of disbelief" is put into overdrive in this aspect. And this picture suffers from what almost ALL boxing pictures suffer from; in striving to put us "in the action" of the ring, the sounds of the punches are not only audible.. they sound like someone is hitting a side of beef (damn you Rocky!). Those who watch boxing regularly know that the action in the ring is rarely something you can hear, but filmmakers still seem to feel it's necessary to spice things up with a noticeable "slap!"
Having said all that, the actual boxing action is fun and hits all of the right notes. The "cast of characters" that 'Honey' Roy has to fight are dependably one-dimensional as well as entertaining. And as I said before, Lou Gossett Jr. is believable as a 46 year old former boxer. He straddles the line between being confident and capable in his natural ability, but also highly cognizant of the fact that he's no spring chicken and may get hurt. He has us cheering for his brashness as well as fearing for his well-being.
Overall Rating - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7
In all honesty, the sum of all this movies' parts could have been a recipe for disaster. Clichés out the ying yang and a trio of Oscar-caliber actors sharing the bill could have made for some uncomfortableness (Woods and Dern were Oscar nominees for their roles in "Salvador" and "Coming Home", respectively, while Gossett won one as Gunnery Sgt. Foley in "An Officer and a Gentleman"). But these 3 thespians have an ability that many of their contemporaries do not; the ability to not take themselves too seriously. They all have a flair for comedy and they all don't mind poking a little fun at themselves. That made them perfect for a movie that, some gloomy detours aside, was played pretty much for laughs. It takes the twists and turns of a caper movie and puts them together with the adrenaline and cheers of a sports movie and, personally, I think they pulled it off.
|Starring: James Woods,
Lou Gossett Jr., Bruce Dern,
Oliver Platt, Heather Graham,
Randall "Tex" Cobb
|"Reviewing the best (and worst) in Pugilistic Pictures!"|