Published Mar 01, 2004Against The Ropes stars Meg Ryan as Jackie Kallen, who broke new ground as the most successful female manager in boxing history. Jackie is working a dead-end job at a sports arena when she spots raw boxing talent in the form of street thug Luther Shaw (Omar Epps). Tired of being treated like a ditz, Jackie steps into the male-dominated world of boxing to manage Luther as a middleweight.
Doing double-duty as the film's director, Charles S. Dutton gives a sensitive performance as Felix, the trainer Jackie pulls out of retirement to prepare her fighter for the ring. At first, Jackie takes a mother hen approach to Luther's training, making him homemade chicken dinners and boosting his self-confidence with Hallmark aphorisms about destiny and potential. But as the two begin their rise to fame, the novelty of a manager in high heels overshadows Luther's boxing talent. Jackie's growing celebrity leads to neglecting her boxer for the sake of her own publicity.
It is Jackie's determination to belong in the selfish, underhanded world of competitive boxing that undermines our sympathy for her plight; in the end, she's just trying to be as nasty and self-serving as the men who stand in her way. Though Jackie has borrowed her wardrobe from Erin Brockovich, her crusade is a selfish one. Meg Ryan is hopelessly miscast; she seems flimsy and indecently cute when wandering through the gym and her attempts at ringside pep talks are like watching a teddy bear growl.
Omar Epps does his best with an under-written part, moving from a defensive ghetto brute to a skilled boxer overwhelmed by the media attention and sudden wealth. Against The Ropes is predictable and, at times, painful in its "you go girl" approach to feminism, but the fight scenes are beautifully choreographed and shot. Charles S. Dutton's liberal borrowing from Rocky for the training sequences leads to an engaging, if familiar, feel, and for boxing fans, the final fight scene is shot with heart-stopping energy and punch. (Paramount)