"Punch Drunk"


What You Need To Know:

ALI is a mess. The movie is as punch drunk as the ex-fighter became in his later years. ALI opens with young Cassius Clay encountering a gruesome newspaper photo of a lynched black man. Cassius works out with his boxing equipment and fights the undefeated Sonny Liston. The movie shows viewers the controversies that followed Cassius when he decided to join the Black Muslims, changed his name and refused to be drafted. Somewhere in all this, Ali befriends sportscaster Howard Cosell, gets divorced several times and goes to Africa, where he meets Idi Amin, the leader who literally cannibalized his people. Finally, Ali beats up George Forman, and the movie ends.

ALI is a tedious, boring, poorly-edited example of bad filmmaking. Will Smith is okay as Muhammed Ali, but he does not have the charisma the real Ali had. Jon Voight has Howard Cosell’s mannerisms down, but is too low key. Of course, there is plenty of boxing violence and some sexual immorality, but the movie forgets, or else it was edited out so as not to inflame people, the racist comments Ali often made about “white devils” when he converted to Islam


(PaPa, FRFR, HH, PCPC, AbAb, C, B, LLL, VVV, SS, N, AA, D, M) Confused, eclectic, pointless worldview with much Muslim content, some anti-Muslim contents, much humanist content, some anti-Christian & anti-Jewish comments, some pro-Christian comments, some pro-black power comments, some anti-black power comments; 22 obscenities, 4 profanities & 1 pointed blasphemy; lots of boxing violence with the now-overused ROCKY effects of slow-motion punches combined with appropriate sound effects, some non-boxing violence including man slaps around his friend, Malcolm X gets shot several times at point-blank range, & rioting on the streets & rioting on TV, with cars burning & people beaten up; several scenes of fornication but no female nudity shown, serial marriages & adultery with Ali admitting that his weakness as a Muslim is his attraction to women; men in boxing trunks, but no real salacious nudity; drinking sometimes to get drunk; smoking; and, much discussion of Islam, much ridicule of other people, positive portraits of Mobutu & Idi Amin, the man who literally cannibalized the people of Uganda in Africa, & unnecessary scene of Muhammed Ali going into cockpit of airline.

More Detail:

ALI is a mess. The movie is as punch drunk as the ex-fighter became in his later years. This is regrettable, because MOVIEGUIDE® has honored Director Michael Mann several times for his directing and screenwriting of such movies as THE INSIDER and LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Usually, Michael makes some important points in his movies. Here, something must have happened on the way to the theatrical release, because the movie goes nowhere and doesn’t know when it gets there. Perhaps, there’s a message, but Sept. 11 could have influenced the movie into being edited into a mishmash. It would be nicer to assume that somebody must have edited out all of the anti-American, anti-white passion in Muhammed Ali’s life, rather than think that everybody just lost consciousness during production.

ALI opens with a James Brown type singing in a black nightclub, while Will Smith, playing a young Cassius Clay, jogs through the streets of Louisville and works out with his boxing equipment. While this strange scene drags on and on, there is a stereotypical flashback of little Cassius getting on a segregated bus and seeing a newspaper with a lynched and disfigured black American. Later, Cassius tells Malcolm X, who called blacks to black power and even to killing their white oppressors, that this bus trip changed his life. Malcolm X, in the pathetic self-analysis scene, tells Cassius that the death of four black children changed his life. These are important, tragic events, but their presentation in the movie makes for poor character motivation and reduces the events to stereotypes.

Soon, Cassius Clay with his motor mouth fights the undefeated Sonny Liston. He demeans everyone and, in the process, makes a friend of Howard Cosell, played wonderfully by Jon Voight.

Next, he decides to become a Muslim and changes his Christian name to Muhammed Ali. He gets caught up in the rift between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed in the Black Muslims, an Islamic cult with strange, racist beliefs. Ali complains to his father and mother about the blue-eyed Jesus, showing a deeply flawed and ignorant perspective toward the Christian faith of his family.

Ali flies to Africa. With a perpetual grudge on his shoulder, he gets up and sits in the cockpit with the pilots. This scene produces an eerie effect in light of the terrorist events in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11. Ali, the, makes a tour of the Muslim and black African nations, meeting Maya Angelou in the process.

Somewhere in the background, there are FBI agents taping, there are illegal activities happening, there are boxing venues, and Malcolm X gets shot on screen with no explanation. Also, he has several affairs and marriages.

Ali gets drafted, refuses the draft, says he’s a conscientious objector, speaks out against the United States, and gets cleared by the Supreme Court as a conscientious objector, which brought laughs from some members of the audience, “How could this tough fighter object to violence?”

Ali finally goes to Africa to fight George Forman for Don King, meets the killers Mobutu and Idi Amin, with no reference to the tragic pain and suffering they inflicted on their countries and no reference to the refrigerator in Idi Amin’s house with the parts of people he had cannibalized. Finally, Ali beats up George Forman and the movie ends.

ALI is one of the most tedious, boring, poorly edited examples of filmmaking in a long time. Will Smith is okay as Muhammed Ali, but he does not have the charisma that the real Ali had. Jon Voight has Howard Cosell’s mannerisms down, but is way too low key for this NYU law school graduate who went on to be one of the most famous sportscasters in history. Mykelti Williamson is memorable as Don King, and there are some superb vignettes by a few of the other actors. The women, however, come and go, complaining that Ali forces them to hide themselves because of his Muslim beliefs.

If you look deeply at this movie, Islam, though promoted throughout, comes across badly. The mishmash of worldviews and political beliefs are only tied together by superficial, stereotypical moments. The bashing of Christianity is sad.

This movie trashes Muhammed Ali’s reputation. If it is true, then he was a pathetic man looking for a reason to be.

What will be interesting is to see whether the critics tear this deconstructed movie to shreds, or read into it their own anti-American, anti-Christian perspectives. Whatever the case, this movie has nothing to do with history or filmmaking.