Gregory Harrison is a terrible flop as a working-class hero. He was better suited to the role of a cotton-brained gigolo in last year's CBS film about male strippers than to that of a would-be brawler (wearing what look like Calvin Klein designer trunks) in "The Fighter," an abomination devoutly to be wished away. It is the CBS Saturday Night Movie at 9 tonight on Channel 9.
The world needs another boxing movie like it needs--another boxing match. Harrison is twerpily stiff and callow as hero Merle Banks, who finds menial jobs, like being a busboy, an insult to his manhood and so tries to earn a grand or two in the amateur ring, much to the predictable dreary dismay of wifey-kins. The little woman is played by Glynnis O'Connor who, sad to say, now has completely lost the seductive sweetness that made her one of the most alluring ingenues of the 1970s. A cruel loss to romantics of all ages.
Ol' Merle can't git hisself a decent job in Hillsboro, where "the mill" closed years ago. Enter Willie, an old pal Merle runs into at the bus station; when Willie begins a sentence with, "Well, when I got back from 'Nam," you know not only where this movie is coming from, you know precisely where it's going. As the bus pulls out, Willie asks, "Hey--still have the dreams we used to rap about?" and Merle says, "Some of 'em," and Willie says, "Me too."
Exit Willie--until the big tri-state championships, when guess whose lives crisscross again. Willie is black and is beaten to a pulp by a snarling racist, who, of course, will be Merle's opponent for the title and the $10,000 grand prize. Merle walks into the sunset (virtually, not literally) reciting the me-decade dogma, "I'm a winner. I'm gonna do what I gotta do. In my own way."
Merle, put a cork in it, will you, please?
The film, tritely written by Jerome Kass and less tritely directed by David Lowell Rich, is like the old Christians-lions contests that Hollywood once staged with giddy regularity, the movies that dwelled, reel after reel, on violence and sadism, then condemned it all at fade-out time. Hypocritically enough, "The Fighter" casts aspersions at the thuggish fans who watch the bloody sport, but in fact invites the home audience to join them. The invitation is easily resisted.