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The Great White Hype

movie review out of 4

*Also starring: Damon Wayans, Peter Berg, Jon Lovitz, Cheech Marin, Corbin Bernsen, Jamie Foxx, John Rhys-Davies, Salli Richardson, Rocky Carroll

Review by Andrew Hicks
2 stars out of 4

The word "hype" sums this one up pretty well, I'd say. The ad campaign for THE GREAT WHITE HYPE touts it as a downright hilarious satire on the world of boxing, but then you wouldn't expect the studioheads to come out and say their movie is just another mediocre comedy we'll all forget about in a few years. Boxing is probably the only sport so far that hasn't spawned some kind of comedic farce (although I can't recall any wacky shotput movies off the top of my head), but THE GREAT WHITE HYPE doesn't rank as one of the better sports comedies of our time even if it is better than MAJOR LEAGUE 2.

It's obvious exactly which media-covered heavyweight and his flamboyant promoter are being made fun of here. Damon Wayans is James "Grim Reaper" Roper, the contending champ, with Samuel L. Jackson playing his weird-hairdoed promoter, Reverend Fred Sultan. It's obviously a Mike Tyson / Don King parody from the very beginning, when Roper is interviewed after a fight and lisps out the same incoherent nonsense we've seen Tyson do a hundrlife, though, or Roper would have been named "Raper."

The premise of this movie is that fights make the most money when a white challenger is brought in to fight the black guy, because even though white guys never have a chance of winning, the racial implications of each race backing their contenders ("Go out there and win one for the white race!") bring more pay-per-view millions than just two black guys beating each others' brains out. Hell, I can look out the window in my neighborhood and see the same thing most nights of the week.

Sultan personally goes out to pick the white challenger -- Terry Conklin (Peter Berg), the only fighter to ever knock Roper out, albeit in an amateur competition. Conklin has since gone on to the grunge band club lifestyle, but is lured back into the ring by a $10 million promise from Sultan, which Conklin tells the media he will use to eliminate the homeless problem. Sultan also heads the media blitz hyping "Irish" Terry Conklin ("I'm not Irish," Conklin protests, to Sultan's reply that, "In the world of boxing, 'Irish' means white.") and bribes the head of the boxing commission with "money, sex and drugs" (Cheech Marin, who you'd think would have enough drugs already) to rank Conklin as a professional contender.

Sultan also has to duck a fighter who is actually interested in a serious fight for the heavyweight title (enough so that he pulls a gun on the Sultan at one point) and bribe an investigative journalist (Jeff Goldblum) who's trying to expose his corruption. Meanwhile, we see scenes of Conklin actually training for the fight while a lazy Roper gains twenty pounds eating junk food, secure in the knowledge that -- in the great scheme of things -- no "Irish" fighter has a chance against a black one. And there are no plot twists in the ending to dispel that law.

The ending of THE GREAT WHITE HYPE is thoroughly disappointing, and I'm not saying that out of a deep-seated racial prejudice. The climax is just so abrupt and noneventful that there's no payoff whatsoever. It would be nice if the movie was actually building up to something or had some kind of clever, unexpected turns up its glove. There are a few laughs scattered throughout the film and the cast, (Jackson in particular) gives enjoyable comedic performances, but ultimately, the movie is weak, lightweight entertainment.

Copyright 1996 Andrew Hicks

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