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'Split Decisions' (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 12, 1988

"Split Decisions" is a fight movie and I'm going to ruin it for you -- the kid wins. But before he wins, it looks as if he's going to lose. In fact, it looks as if he couldn't win, not in a million years, not unless a miracle occurred.

A miracle occurs.

It will only be a miracle to you, though, if you've never seen "Rocky" or any another fight movie, never seen an underdog fighter droop on the ropes, his eyes filled with blood, never seen him reach down into himself to find that last ounce of courage required to swing that one killer uppercut that will stagger his opponent and win the day.

"Split Decisions" tells the story of a fighting Irish family named McGuinn, whose patriarch Dan (Gene Hackman) has ambitious plans -- we might even call them dreams -- for his younger son Eddie (Craig Sheffer). For example, he's going to be taught by priests. In college. First in the family. Also, acting as the boy's trainer, he's put him in line for a place on the Olympic team. And being the good son, Eddie works hard to bring his father's dream to life.

On the other hand, his older brother Ray (Jeff Fahey) has done everything wrong. Also a fighter, Ray gave up his amateur status, abandoned his father and signed with another trainer (Carmine Caridi) to get his face ground into chuck on the pro circuit. For this, Dad has disowned him, and so when he opposes a plan hatched by his manager and a small-time racketeer named Pistone (James Tolkan) to have him take a dive in his big bout with a middleweight contender named Julian (Snake) Pedoza (Eddie Velez), he's all alone. Unfortunately, the mob guys don't view his participation as optional -- so they kill him.

And to avenge his death, Eddie gives up his -- and his father's -- dream of Olympic gold to turn pro and take on the evil Snake.

"Split Decisions," directed by the Englishman David Drury, is shamelessly hackneyed. That the actors -- in particular Hackman -- manage to instill some authenticity into these stock characters gives us only slight distraction from the cliche's. Fahey shows some fire as Ray, and Jennifer Beals has a small and thankless role as Ray's girlfriend (she also has a hankering for Eddie), but she's not onscreen long enough to show us anything other than the splendid development in her abdominal muscles.

The movie isn't so much tired as lost in time. What it most wants to be, you'd guess, is one of those Warner Bros. fight pictures from the '30s where everybody lives in a tenement walk-up and talks out of the side of his mouth.

Believe it or not, there's even a character named Pop.

Split Decisions is rated R for language and violence

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