FULL DISCLOSURE: I despise everything about professional boxing, probably due as much to my own ignorance of the sport's subtleties as to my highly evolved sense of pacifism.
I find its emphasis on violence over grace grotesque, its loud and tasteless fans obnoxious and its practitioners all too often unsportsmanlike. The beauty of its primitive brutality escapes me, and I find the corruption and hypocrisy of many of those associated with it both in and out of the ring, despite efforts to reform the business, egregious.
That having been said, the climactic fight scene in "Play It to the Bone," the new boxing flick starring Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas, thrilled me to the core of my being. I hungrily lapped up the quarter-hour or so of blood, sweat and flying spittle like a protein-starved pit bull in front of a plate of raw porterhouse.
But that, my friends, is only because the rest of this sorry excuse for a movie (not to put too fine a point on it) sucked howling wind.
How would you like to read a laundry list of everything that is wrong with the pacing, story arc, acting and dialogue of this train wreck by writer-director Ron ("White Men Can't Jump") Shelton? Of course you wouldn't. That would be -- how shall I put this? -- tedious. But it still would not be half as tedious as the first hour and fifteen minutes of "Bone," most of which takes place inside the stifling interior (despite the fact that the top is down) of an apple-green muscle car on the cinematically well-worn road from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
The passengers of said vehicle are: Cesar Dominguez (Banderas), a washed-up boxer from Madrid sporting a greasy George Clooney haircut and unresolved emotional baggage about his failed shot at the big time; Vince Boudreau (Harrelson), another failed boxer/Jesus freak with a bald pate and a body covered with religious-themed tattoo art; and Grace Pasic (Lolita Davidovich), the current and former squeeze of Cesar and Vince, respectively. Zero chemistry exists between the lot of them.
The boys (best friends, natch) are on their way to Vegas as last-minute substitutions for the undercard fight in a match between Mike Tyson and Someone You Never Heard Of (Tyson actually appears on screen for all of 2.5 seconds, in case that makes a difference to you). Grace is there because a) she owns the car; b) the script calls for someone to incite feelings of competition between Vince and Cesar and sexual jealousy will do as well as something more original; and c) the producers must have realized that bodacious babes are good box office.
Speaking of bodacious, Lucy Liu of tawdry "Ally McBeal" fame also makes an evanescent appearance -- in a bit of casting against type -- as a slutty hitchhiker. She tags along for the ride just long enough for Vince to copulate with her in a gas station service bay (tres romantique!) and then she's out on her keister again. The rest of the movie, the tiresome threesome are on their own, jawing incessantly about Vince's roulette system, Grace's get-rich-quick schemes and whether Cesar is gay or not (during the big showdown fight Cesar hallucinates a naked man, while Vince imagines that he sees topless women parading around the ring with bosoms like helium balloons).
And you thought this was a boxing film? Wrong! It's 125 minutes of "Nightline's" most monotonous talking heads sprinkled liberally with the smut of "Jerry Springer," interrupted by only a few minutes of anything approaching real passion -- and that's watching the stars pummel each other's faces into hamburger (even Davidovich takes a punch in the nose). After the brief but welcome interlude of fisticuffs in Las Vegas, the three stooges, battered, bruised, but no less boring, pile back in that insufferable automobile, mouthing such platitudes to each other as, "I love you guys."
What is this, you may ask yourself, a beer commercial?
Come to think of it, with all the prominent Budweiser logos plastered on the screen every time the camera takes a crane shot of the arena, that may not be that far from the truth.
PLAY IT TO THE BONE (R, 125 minutes) -- Contains (in addition to rampant stupidity) obscenity, nudity, a sexual encounter and bloody pugilism. Area theaters.