PASS THE POPCORN: ‘The Fighter’ serves up title shots and body shots

by Staff

Courtesy of Paramount

Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg star as boxing brothers in new film

By Maggie Pehanick, Entertainment Editor

There is something off about Director David O. Russell’s new boxing flick, aside from Christian Bale’s meth-affected eye contact. Bale’s character, Dicky Eklund, is just one of a colorful cast of family members represented in Russell’s big-screen version of Massachusetts boxing legend “Irish” Micky Ward’s rise to fame. Despite the smart cast and painfully authentic dialogue, the slow and sometimes forced pacing proves to be a major Achilles heel for the anything-but-formulaic film.

Beginning in the slums of Lowell, Mass., circa 1991, the movie is less about Micky’s boxing career and more about the twisted family dynamic that plagued his personal life and kept the talented fighter from excelling in the ring. With former-fighter Dicky cooped up at his dealer’s house, Micky is his family’s only meal ticket. Unfortunately, with his chain-smoking mother (Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”) as his manager and junkie Dicky as his trainer, Micky’s career is limited to getting the living hell beat out of him by mismatched opponents. Until Micky meets bartender Charlene (Amy Adams, looking especially prostitute-y), it seems unlikely that he’ll ever overcome his allegiance to his emotionally abusive relatives.

Much to the chagrin of his clucking sisters (all suffering from hair-teasing abuse), Micky and the brassy Charlene finally stand up to his toxic family and he pens a deal with a real agent, setting the wheels in motion for a life-changing career move.

Mark Wahlberg, who also executive produced the film, lamely plays Micky as if he’s not putting any effort into it. It’s not until the end when Russell streams real-life footage of the boxer that Wahlberg’s under-acting suddenly seems incredibly accurate. While Micky is laid-back and much more thoughtful than his family gives him credit for, Bale, looking vastly different than his alter-superego “Batman,” portrays drug-addled, M.C. Hammer-pants wearing Dicky with startling accuracy.

The story, an inspiring tale of the underdog, is nothing new. What is original is the way Russell tells the story. The director seems so desperate to avoid the clichés that plague sports films that he experiments with an entirely new tempo, one that doesn’t always work. The first half is a vivid narrative about Micky’s white trash “Brady Bunch” of a family as well as the camaraderie of the entire town of Lowell. But the story doesn’t pick up speed until the last 40 minutes, when the film finds its focus and Micky finally begins to question his manipulative family’s motivations. Despite a number of painful fight sequences, it’s more laboring to watch him struggle to come to terms with the truth about his slimy family. Fortunately, the acting is powerful, the soundtrack is a fun jaunt into Aerosmith territory and the story does eventually evolve.

Good for: Those who miss full-butted jean shorts and Wahlberg sans T-shirt.

Bad for: Squeamish folks and those who prefer Amy Adams as a Disney princess.

Movie: The Fighter

Directed by: David O. Russell

Release Date: Dec. 10

Grade: B+

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