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Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Think you know his whole story? You're probably right."
2 stars

Ray Mancini was at this screening for a Q&A, and he mentioned that when Mark Kreigel approached him with the idea of doing the book on which this movie was based, he wasn't particularly interested; he'd told his story a number of times and didn't feel like there was anything new to say. And while Kreigel had an angle that led Mancini to relent (fathers and sons), the feeling of this well being dry is still there, even for those who only vaguely recognize "Boom Boom" Mancini's name.

And once upon a time in the late 1970s and early 1980s, that name was huge; he was boxing's lightweight champion back when the sport was on broadcast television weekly and the lower weight classes were often followed as closely as - and considered more exciting than - the lumbering heavyweights. He took his nickname from his father Lenny, who had been a fighter himself before being injured in World War II. Ray never wanted to be anything else, pledging to win the title for his father even back in grade school. It was a great story, at least until he fought Korean boxer Kim Duk-koo in Las Vegas, landing a knockout blow from which Kim never awoke before dying four days later.

Ray Mancini's family history certainly isn't boring from the perspective of a random guy sitting next to you on a plane or in a bar and describing what put him there, but it can seem kind of ordinary by the standards of people who have biographies written about them: There's a mill town that goes to seed when the mill closes, a father who drinks a little too much, and a kid who goes off to New York to see if he can make it on the big stage, where his father made an attempt but never quite broke through. It's a good story, and it's got some good subplots, but it's hard to tell compellingly. Thirty years after Ray Mancini's career hit its zenith, everybody who could talk about him and Youngstown, Ohio when he was younger is middle-aged and sort of comfortable-looking: His old friends are nice, although the filmmakers are lucky that actor Ed O'Neill is among that number or just happens to be a guy who grew up in Youngstown around the same time, because having a guy who is used to being on camera on-hand to communicate what the town was like certainly helps. Go back far enough to be talking about Lenny Mancini Sr., and it gets drier, with just a few stock photos to tell the story. It is, up until the Kim fight, a fairly standard local-boy-makes-good story, and despite Kreigel's enthusiasm and director Jesse James Miller's basic skill, it just doesn't make the leap to being more.

Now, when the film makes the sideways jump to give the audience Kim's backstory, things can't help but get juicy. Kreigel and Miller have been framing the Mancinis' story as Ray fulfilling his father's dreams, and Kim Duk-koo is the ultimate contrast, never knowing his father although his prostitute mother has occasionally found temporary substitutes. When he crossed the Pacific for his title match, he left behind a pregnant girlfriend, Lee Young-mee. It may sound like cheap melodrama compared to how measured the Mancini story is, and one might feel bad about finding this family's tragedy fascinating, but it's hard to deny that Kim's story grabs the viewer's attention in a way that Mancini's doesn't, especially once the timeframe moves past 1982 and Young-mee and her family are relatively candid about the fallout compared to how circumspect Mancini and company are about their reaction, mostly limiting their comments to how it affected his career.

The last portion of the film has Mancini meeting Young-mee and her son Kim Ji-wan, and once more, it's sort of underwhelming. Not that one necessarily wants it to overflow with anger and recrimination, what with these being nice-seeming real people, but the movie has been building to this, and it doesn't really feel like a transformative moment for the participants, despite what they all say. It doesn't help that there's a feeling to these scenes that makes them feel either staged or intrusive - they're cut like there were multiple cameras or takes, although it may just be that they're having this rather personal experience and there's a bunch of cameras around - even if they've been talking to the filmmakers before, being interviewed is different from having one's activities recorded.

One thing the film does do fairly well is to handle the boxing side of the story. I'm by no means a fan of the fights, but I couldn't help but be impressed by how well Mancini and others recalled details thirty years later, pointing out how this volley served as a turning point or this fighter's style matched up well against Mancini. A little more would have been nice, actually, for example explaining why the trainers thought Ray Mancini was more suited to fighting as a pro than an amateur. Some of the best interviews come from that world, whether they be the enthusiastic Sugar Ray Leonard or the likes of Bob Arum (who seems much more disenchanted with the sport than anyone else interviewed). The cuts to Mancini's fights are invariably exciting, in contrast to the genial, well-preserved, but not hugely forthcoming Ray Mancini of the present.

He's not anything close to uncooperative; he just really doesn't seem to have as much to say about his career and that particular turning point. It's hard to fault him for that; it has been thirty years. It does leave the movie feeling fairly thin, enough that it would likely be best if it were cut down to the size of a "30 For 30" offering and maybe refocused on the Mancini-Kim fight. That's undeniably where the good stuff is, even if the rest is less bad than unexciting.

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originally posted: 06/25/13 12:11:44
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Directed by
  Jesse James Miller

Written by
  Mark Kreigel

  Ray Mancini

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