You know, many artists in the music industry after three or four hit albums, finally release their Greatest Hits package that includes all their best tunes and some additional stuff. Madonna, The Backstreet Boys, Mariah Carey, and Pink Floyd have been the recent artists to release Greatest Hits packages, and if it were music-related, you could add Ali to the list. Ali, the newest effort from director Michael Mann, has some great hits, but in the end itís pretty much a disappointment. Hell, I admire Mann, one of the most consistent filmmakers in the business, since he came up with some great films like The Last Of The Mohicans, Thief, Heat, and his masterpiece, The Insider. But his latest effort just disappoints. Almost none of his magic is there, except in the fight scenes, which is the only real thing that keeps this film going. Not even The Fresh Prince can save this one either.What I expected from this film didnít materialize. The film is being promoted as a ďbiopicĒ of The Greatest, who is no one else but Cassius Clay AKA Muhammad Ali (Will Smith). According to the film, Clay came out of nowhere and managed to beat the shit out of Sonny Liston (Michael Bentt). Heís also a close friend of Muslim follower and activist Malcolm X (Mario Van Pebbles). The reasons why X and Ali are friends are never known. We learn that Clay is a devout follower of the Muslim religion thanks to Malcolm X, and soon, his religion would change his name to Muhammad Ali thanks to it. Then after that he falls in love with his first wife Sonji Roi (Jada Pinkett-Smith, isnít that ironic?) and goes on to a rematch with Liston again. Ali and Roi divorce and he gets a new wife, he ignores the draft, is on the verge of going to jail, fights with Joe Frazier (James Toney), then he fights with George Foreman (Charles Shufford), yadda yadda yaddaÖ Hell, you know what happens in that time span.
"Great fight scenes but disappoints in the end"
Thereís only one problem with the script, a problem that fucks up the entire movie from start to finish: a good story. By looking at the writing credits, you can see that within it lies the problem. In all the films that Michael Mann has ever done, heís always been the one that writes the script, and heís damn well good at it, because all of his films are well written and have great character development. In Ali, heís only adapting someone elseís script, and with all due respect to writer Gregory Allen Howard, the script is pretty much dull and shallow, and Mannís talents canít save it from being what it is. The script starts off halfway down from where it should start, when Ali is already a grownup man, and is already a pro-boxer, and thanks to this, it leaves a shit-load of unanswered questions:
1. How was Ali when he was a kid?
2. What inspired him into boxing?
3. How were his youth and adolescence like?
4. Who the fuck discovered him?
5. Where did he start?
6. Where did he meet his trainers, Drew ďBundiniĒ Brown (Jamie Foxx) and Angelo Dundee (Ron Silver)?
There are many questions that the film leaves unanswered, and during its entire course, it just flows like a straightforward documentary. There are no answers to any questions, thereís no character development, no nothing. During the first fight with Sonny Liston, Ali has a sudden sight problem, and were never explained why did he get that, it just comes and goes, nothing more. I mean, what else does the film tell you about Ali, besides the already-known fact that heís a loudmouth, a pain in the ass, a womanizer and a great boxer? Hell, everybody knows that. What about his private life, his personal struggles, including his emotions in being in the Olympics for the first time? Or furthermore, how did he develop Parkinsonís disease? We are never told of such things, and after all the fight scenes, whatever message or key that the film is trying to give us just vanishes into thin air amongst all the historical events depicted here, the death of Malcolm X, the unrelated death of Martin Luther King Jr. amongst others. The script was a total letdown, but Mannís direction manages to at least hold whatever there is together, and also manages to make the fights thrilling, at least that was a good high point.
The performances were all right. Will Smithís performance unfortunately isnít what everyone says. Sure, he gives us a pretty uptight Ali, but he overacts so much in so many places that it just brings out a few unwanted chuckles. All along it has been said this was to be Smithís greatest performance. Unfortunately, what I see here isnít as rewarding to what everyone had promised. The rest of the supporting cast was all right, though at least there were a trio of standouts: Foxx, Voight and Van Pebbles, they fit their roles like gloves, and all three steal all the scenes theyíre in, but thatís just as bright as itís going to get.In the end, I canít recommend this film, itís too shallow and straightforward that thereís little substance to make chemistry with. This film is in the end very disappointing, more so because it came from a great director like Michael Mann, but heís human, nobody is perfect. Smith also disappoints, since I expected more from him in the role of The Greatest, but unfortunately, he and this film donít even come close of catching the real elements that made Ali The Greatest. I guess I better go and rent When We Were Kings. 2-5
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originally posted: 01/02/02 01:13:56