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Play it to the Bone

movie review out of 4 Movie Review: Play it to the Bone

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Woody Harrelson
Director: Ron Shelton
Rated: R
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: January 2000
Genres: Comedy, Sports

*Also starring: Lolita Davidovich, Lucy Liu, Tom Sizemore, William Utay, Robert Wagner

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

More people are seriously injured each year on the football field than in the boxing ring, yet some people who are ardent fans of pigskin pugilism point moral thumbs down at the roped-off slugfest. This is not irrational. The aim of the defensive guard is to block the opponent from galloping freely across the gridiron. The objective of the prizefighter is to hurt his opponent. Moral misgivings may be justified in the latter case but the case for banning football is not at all strong.

You don't want to hurt your friends, though, do you? How, then, can you expect two people who are bosom buddies to confront each other inside the ropes other than for some friendly sparring? This is the question that writer-director Ron Shelton wants you to keep in the back of your mind as you watch his "Play It to the Bone," a picture that's so crackling with energy that you sometimes take your mind off its repetitive, underwritten screenplay. "Bone" is about two over- the-hill prizefighters enjoying their final fifteen minutes of fame under the bright lights of a Las Vegas stadium. As you watch the Madrid-born fighter, Cesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas) riding across the Nevada sands with his sparring partner Vince Boudreau (Woody Harrelson), one thought must remain in your mind. How can these two guys, scheduled to fight each other for real, ever manage to pull their punches and yet avoid giving the crowd the notion that the match is fixed? The big surprise will be that they not only go after each other like a mongoose for a snake but turn in a struggle ferocious enough to bring the house down. Much of the movie's 124-minute play time is devoted to convincing the audience that the two chums in this road-and-buddy film share enough resentment to guarantee a bruising brawl.

The call back to arms for the two tusslers comes when hours before a preliminary middleweight bout, one contender dies in a car crash while the other ODs. Corrupt promoter Joe Domino (Tom Sizemore) and his partner Artie (Richard Masur) call up Dominguez and Boudreau at their Los Angeles gym, promising them a quick $100,000 to share plus a guaranteed title bout for the winner if they can make it to Vegas that very day to allow the show to go on. To save money, Boudreau and Dominguez do not fly to Vegas but instead call upon a woman with whom each had once enjoyed an affair, Grace Pasic (Lolita Davidovich). The first part of the movie deals with the road adventure that the threesome undertake; the second handles their actual fight and its aftermath.

Woody Harrelson parlays his fine performance in "Sunchaser" into a role that suits his talents and shows convincing chemistry with his co-star, Antonio Banderas, as they take on the long, scenic route from L.A. to Vegas in Grace's bright green, open-top car. Harrelson, however, is burdened with a discouraging character eccentricity. He is allegedly a religious person who occasionally skims passages from the Bible in the back seat and in several scenes has visions of Jesus--who in one situation saves him from remaining on the mat for the 10-count. Yet he--as well as virtually the entire contingent of performers--spout four-letter words incessantly and in one bizarre, unbelievable situation, Harrelson's character engages in a sexual marathon behind a gas station with a mixed-up druggie, Lia (Lucy Liu).

Davidovich is the movie's scene-stealer, looking dazzling in the final portion as she strips off her driving clothes to fit into a revealing outfit recalling her role ten years ago as Huey Long's Baltimore stripper Blaze Starr. Sporting a temper of her own to match that of the two testosterone-addled road companions, she restrains her former boyfriends from coming to blows hours before the bout while ironically egging each on from her ringside seat at the stadium. In the side roles, Tom Sizemore evokes considerable laughs as the promoter who knows how to play his chess pieces against one another.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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