Against the Ropes isn’t a total failure or washout. It is the type of film that is the quality of an average, if forgettable, made-for-TV film. No one really embarrasses themselves, and the plot is as simple and straightforward as you can get. You are never really in doubt as to where the story is heading.
In this based-on-a-true-story tale, Meg Ryan (with a grating mid-western accent) plays Jackie Kallen a woman who has been a huge fan of boxing since she was a little girl admiring her uncle (who of course dies young, leaving him a soft-focus larger than life memory). Now that she is (supposedly) 30s-ish, she is an office assistant to a larger-than-life boxing manager and promoter, played by dialogue-chewing Tony Shaloub. On a bet, he gives her one boxer’s contract for $1, to prove that she can manage an athlete as well as any man.
Can she? Well, can she? Can she make it in a man’s world? Do you ever doubt it?
When her $1 boxer proves a washout and a crack-head, she instead sets her focus on a neighborhood thug who can beat the crap out of drug-dealers with one hand tied behind his back. Luther Shaw (Omar Epps) is her ticket to the big time, and the lowly boxer and the lowly manager fight their way to the middleweight championship, against all odds.
Jackie Kallen is to Meg Ryan as Erin Brockovich was to Julia Roberts. It is the role that gives the actress the chance to basically dress like a slut, but have the mind and drive of a ruthless businesswoman. But I have a sneaking feeling that Oscar won’t be waiting for Meg. Meg wears dresses that look like they were made for a woman half her size (which I guess would make her a hobbit), are slit down the middle, and then sewn back onto her body with rock-star stitches, causing half of her flesh to spill out. OK, “spill” is not the right word for a woman who has no breasts, but you get the idea. Her hair is so straight that it swings with the stiffness of straw when she tosses her head. And her lips. Well, I mentioned the lips before… but something about them just ain’t right.
However, Meg seems to be having a good time with the role. She is all swagger and walkin’ the walk, and I’ll bet the real Jackie Kallen was/is just as much a character. Omar Epps does a fine job with a role that is not developed too deeply (we don’t know much about Luther’s home life or past), and the rest of the film is filled with snarly, cartoony manly-men. Though the film is ultimately as disposable as most feel-good sports movies, Against the Ropes isn’t entirely the humiliation that the studio bosses seem to think it is.