Against the Ropes
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Having grown up around boxing, Jackie Kallen knows a jab from a hook from an uppercut. And she knows knockout talent when she sees it. But knowledge can take a woman only so far in a boys-club industry. So she resigns herself—for awhile—to secretarial duties for a sexist and demeaning man.
When on a whim, a top boxing agent offers her the contract of a fighter for a dollar, she accepts. But her new charge turns out to be a drug addict! Then, after witnessing a man she's never met before (Luther) beat her druggie client to a pulp (on the street, not in the ring), she has an idea: forget dollar-contract boy and turn Luther into a champ. It's a challenge, to say the least. Luther has never fought professionally. He has an anger problem and is reluctant to train under a man he feels is washed up and too old. To top it off, even if she can get hurdle those considerable obstacles, there’s still the fact that in such a male-dominated sport she's all but locked out from getting her fighter a worthy opponent.
Things don't shape up to be very positive at first. It’s often unclear whether Jackie is promoting her boxer or herself or both. And when forced to choose between a media-op with HBO or the small-potatoes sportscaster who helped launch her career, she selfishly takes the big dog. Likewise, despite Luther needing to concentrate before a big fight, she uncaringly takes the cameras into his dressing room anyway.
[Spoiler Warning] By film’s end, though, Jackie has apologized for these shortcomings. What’s more, she sacrifices her own catapulting career by abandoning her rights to Luther’s contract to secure his chance to fight for the middleweight title.
After Jackie gets what she perceives as a worthwhile contract on a boxer, she tells a friend, “God dropped him into my life—he’s my destiny.” An opponent of Luther’s crosses himself before a match.
Jackie’s choice of clothing is frequently immodest. Her wardrobe includes a more-than-cleavage-revealing outfit (with string ties across). Seeing her in it, a man remarks, “Don’t throw sex in my face unless you mean it.” A similarly styled backless leather outfit is just as racy.
When Luther’s trainer attempts to tie back one of his hands in order to improve his balance, Luther quips about not being “into the S&M stuff.” A gym manager mockingly tells Jackie that getting a better time slot at his establishment will cost her “[oral sex] every hour on the hour.” She retaliates with a vulgar comment. In order to secure a fight for her boxer, he tracks a man to a strip bar. When she inquires about his wife, he replies, “I’ve never cheated on her—I just come to these places for relaxation.” (Pole dancers grind nearby.) One positive line finds Jackie rebuking this individual for being a “married man addicted to strip joints and who knows what else.”
Jackie’s friend Renee becomes sexually involved with Luther (“I know him enough biblically”). When a reporter asks Jackie if the rumors about her posing for Playboy are true, she asks, “Should I?” The reporter lustfully responds in the affirmative. One person refers to Jackie as a “Barbie doll with glass balls.”
Boxing is violent. Hence, movies about boxing are violent. Included here are not just the punches above and below the belt, but swollen eyes, and bloody noses and mouths (their depiction isn't excessively violent or gory). An angry Luther gets into a major brawl (punching and kicking) in a drug den. Later, he throws a chair across a room.
Crude or Profane Language
More than 80 profanities in all—including nearly 30 s-words and a handful of “d--n"s combined with “God”—are constant reminders of why this film isn't rated PG. “Jesus” and “Christ” are both misused and women are referred to as b--ches a half-dozen times. Two different vulgarities for male genitalia, one for female genitalia and one for oral sex are part of the mix. The derogatory term “faggot” is used, as is the word “a--” combined frequently with the verbs “wipe” or “kiss.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jackie orders and drinks a wine cooler at a bar. Drinking is part of the atmosphere at a strip bar and an after-fight party. Among typical secretarial duties, Jackie’s boss has her restocking his alcohol supply. Drug paraphernalia litter the place where viewers first encounter Luther. After springing Luther from jail at their initial meeting, Jackie asks him he wants to go out for coffee, a beer or a milkshake. Luther’s trainer smokes a cigar. An incidental character smokes in Luther’s neighborhood.
Other Negative Elements
As a young girl, Jackie is scolded by her father for entering the boxing ring at his gym between sparring sessions. He caustically refers to her as “a midget with a head full of stupid.” Jackie lies at a pawn shop, saying she needs cash for her kids (she has none), and later to her boss. Jackie’s fighter is offered a laxative-laced drink. Knowing what is happening, Jackie slips the beverage to her fighter’s opponent instead. He winds up losing bowel control in the ring (it's not shown, but it is heard). Among artists offering background music is the misogynistic gangsta rapper DMX.
This is Jackie Kallen’s story, inspired by her real life. How accurate it is is anybody's guess. Meg Ryan's Jackie comes across as a schmoozing self-promoter who has a problem with modesty and boundaries (until she makes a sacrificial decision near the movie’s close—a clear case of too little, too late). Omar Epps' Luther has only one thing going for him—he knows how to box. Outside of that, he’s just a hothead with a checkered past and a sexually involved present. A few limp lessons in selflessness and female empowerment don't make up for that. Foul language, sexual joking and immodesty KO Against the Ropes.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Meg Ryan as Jackie Kallen; Omar Epps as Luther Shaw; Skye McCole Bartusiak as Young Jackie Kallen; Tony Shalhoub as Larocca; Timothy Daly as Gaven Ross; Charles Dutton as Felix Reynolds; Joseph Cortese as Irving Abel, Kerry Washington as Renee
Charles S. Dutton ( )