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Overall Rating

Awesome: 9.78%
Worth A Look: 21.74%
Pretty Bad: 26.09%
Total Crap: 10.87%

7 reviews, 50 user ratings

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by Scott Weinberg

"Ali Boring and the Forty Z's."
2 stars

Alternately dull, uninteresting and just plain "blah", Michael Mann's biopic Ali is nothing more than a 2+ hour showcase for Will Smith's uncanny Cassius Clay impersonation. But even the best impersonations in the world will grow tiresome after a few hours, and there's virtually nothing else worth experiencing in this entire belabored affair.

After directing the phenomenal movie The Insider, filmmaker Michael Mann found himself the new "A-list" director. (He had previously directed other critical faves including The Last of the Mohicans and Heat.) With his newfound credibility (and bankability), he could have chosen any number of options for his next project. Unfortunately, Mann has seemingly decided to become a cross between Oliver Stone and Tony Scott, as his Ali is nothing more than a mish-mash of grating visuals, irritating musical sequences and a performance from Will Smith that begins as a novelty and ends as a parody.

This film teaches you nothing about Muhammad Ali that you couldn't learn in a 4-page pamphlet. (He was arrogant. He was a fantastic boxer. He had a big mouth. He refused to fight in the Vietnam War.) Documentaries that run on A & E and ESPN Classic give you infinitely more than this bloated movie does, and these specials don't feature a seizure-inducing directorial style. Scene after ponderous scene is presented in a nausea-inspiring conflagration of pointless close-ups, out-of-focus expositions and handheld "wobble" shots. (Someone please introduce Michael Mann to some form of tripod.)

The movie opens with Clay as a 20-some year old boxer who has a friendship with the infamous Malcolm X. This leads to one of the movie's biggest missteps: If you're going to make a biographical film, don't skimp on the background. Throughout the entire film, I was wondering "What about Clay as a boy? How did he discover his boxing talents? How did he become such close friends with Malcolm X?" THESE are thing I wanted to know. When a biopic skips right to the most famous stories, the audience is robbed of learning anything new. Mann and his three screenwriters apparently assume that we already know half of Ali's story - so they only give us the familiar half.

Deciding to focus on Ali’s more famous exploits, Mann ultimately delivers a staccato style “greatest hits” package that would probably seem infinitely more compelling if you were simply watching Ali’s old boxing footage. From Ali’s membership in the Muslim community to his numerous boxing matches to his controversial decision to ignore the U.S. draft; if there’s a story about Ali that we already know, it’s in here. The familiarity overwhelms the entire film, since the audience learns literally nothing new about the living legend.

The boxing sequences are uniformly murky and over-directed, as Mann opts to focus in on the most pointless sections of the action. (I think I’ve seen more of Will Smith’s right shoulder than I’ll ever need.) The constant usage of swooping camera angles and ridiculously lingering close-ups make the boxing sequences more nauseating than exciting, and these moments are the only “alive” segments of the entire movie. Particularly annoying is Mann’s penchant for letting his camera linger on the “musical segues” for about 7 minutes longer than required. In fact, ALL of the character development is delivered ham-fistedly in the first fifteen minutes while an ENDLESS Sam Cooke song is played to death.

Will Smith does deserve some praise for delivering the best impersonation since the days of Rich Little. Smith looks, sounds and probably smells just like Ali did. Unfortunately, a strong impersonation is not the same as a strong performance. You’ll never get past the fact that it’s Will Smith “doing” Ali. Faring just as unwell is a nearly unrecognizable Jon Voight as Howard Cosell. Sporting some horrid makeup and the world’s ugliest hairpiece, Voight does manage to get Cosell’s voice and mannerisms down cold. But again, the performance is a novelty. Ron Silver does very little with the thankless role of Angelo Dundee, while Giancarlo Esposito does the best he can with the painfully underwritten role of Ali’s father. Easily the biggest standout in the cast is Jamie Foxx, an actor generally known for his comedic skills, who brings a stunning amount of weight to his role as Ali’s right hand man. Also strong (and therefore underused) is Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X and Mykelti Williamson as Don King.

While so many of Ali’s accomplishments are simply omitted, Mann seems more than content to include all the hoary old TV-movie clichés: Drug-addicted sidekick striving for redemption, long-suffering wife finally gets a backbone, Dad gets upset when Clay drops the family name, etc. The sequences are delivered in an alarmingly insular fashion. None of these moments add up to anything, and the movie peters out limply following a maudlin re-enactment of the famous Rumble in the Jungle bout.

As a surprise-free ‘greatest hits’ adaptation, Ali may please hardcore fans of this fascinating pugilist. Those looking for a movie that digs a bit deeper and actually tries to offer something new, I’d recommend the terrific documentary When We Were Kings.

As it stands, Ali is nothing more than a tired and uninspired showcase for Will Smith, a solid actor who desperately wants to win an Oscar. Unless the Academy has recently included a category for Best Impression, I don’t think this will be his year.

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originally posted: 12/28/01 06:03:54
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User Comments

6/30/18 The Champ Now heres a film that could do with a remake 3 stars
9/13/17 morris campbell will smiths best role 4 stars
2/07/06 Anthony A motion picture to remember forever 5 stars
1/30/06 WiseMan For true Ali Fans Only. It made me feel Powerfull though, if you got patience & Apriciation 5 stars
11/12/05 "K" Ali was & still is,a racist and LYING DEVIL.The movie FLOPPED,and deservedly so!! 1 stars
9/13/05 Total Crap Boring, dull movie. Waits too long for the fight with Foreman. For True Ali fans only. 2 stars
8/22/05 ES Too much with the politics, we wanted to see the fighting, the domination and the heart 1 stars
5/28/05 Weltner One-sided portrait of pathological lying hero of black racists,who's fights were fixed. 1 stars
12/27/04 mjoc Reaaly mundane and just boring. Except for Jon Voight 2 stars
8/28/04 amber it was the best movie ever i loved it 5 stars
7/15/04 Daveman Throws in all the sensationalism of Ali's career without giving us any unified message. 2 stars
4/20/04 ALI HBOUS Will Smith along with the score, are the best things about ALI 4 stars
3/23/04 john doesn't capture Ali at all! Smith is in over his head - watch WHEN WE WERE KINGS instead! 2 stars
1/21/04 tatum Scattershot bio almost anchored by Smith 3 stars
1/15/04 Samuel boring at times, but still a good movie 3 stars
11/24/03 brooklyntony I love the man...I hated the movie 1 stars
8/12/03 Pinkline Jones Mr Bean should have got the part 1 stars
7/14/03 Joesco Even as a non-boxing buff I thought this would be good - but it wasn't. 2 stars
6/18/03 magus The greatest, purely cinematic, experience of 2002- I got goosebumps,you feel like ur there 5 stars
6/15/03 Jack Sommersby Maddeningly unfocused and uninvolving. Smith is painfully miscast. 2 stars
4/25/03 mr. Pink Boring. How could Mann have done this. It's even worse than Last of the Mohicans. 1 stars
4/08/03 Andrew Carden Jon Voight Was Amazing, but The Film Was Just Good. 4 stars
1/16/03 Goofy Maxwell Fights=intense, despite Will's lack of intensity. Lost him Oscar, but Ali's still a winner. 4 stars
10/21/02 Joey Joe Joe Junoir Shabanu havent seen the movie 3 stars
6/26/02 Phil M. Aficionado Weinberg's review makes all my points. A ho-hum slice of a larger and great story. 2 stars
5/23/02 natasha exceptional cast, especially Will Smith - he has the charisma to be Ali 5 stars
3/26/02 Jessica Davis (fan of Denzel Washington when he's good) Could've been poli.correct choosing Will instead of Denzel's worst role - ACADEMY EATS SHIT 5 stars
3/23/02 Natalie Stonecipher Amazing. As a non-fan of boxing, I never thought I could like a boxing movie so much. 5 stars
3/17/02 binda this movie was almost a tribute to muhammad ali, a job well done to will smith. 5 stars
3/15/02 Monster W. Kung Not exceptional, but definitely worth a look. 4 stars
2/26/02 Bueller Voight's Kosell make-up was laughable. Pretty good imitation at times. Smith was just Okay. 3 stars
2/01/02 rnmina unfortunately I totally agree with the reviewer, but I think Smith worked well 3 stars
1/13/02 Gay Tooth Fairy Will Smith is good, but not in this movie. He is chunky. I thought Ali was ripped. 1 stars
1/10/02 neo Mann's thumping atmosphere and Smith's performance will truly rock you... 5 stars
1/10/02 malcolm very good, not much new though 4 stars
1/08/02 The Boy In The Designer Bubble Gawd! Rappers in movies! How about Snoop Dogg as Martin Luther King. Stop the insanity! 1 stars
1/05/02 G-Man Another movie crappy movie about the White man keeping the black man down. 1 stars
1/03/02 Turtle Will Smith's perfomance is outstanding, but the movie suffers from a bit of bad direction. 4 stars
1/02/02 paul mann bit off more than he could chew. rent rumble in the jungle instead 3 stars
12/31/01 Marcel It was boring and sometimes I thought I was looking at 60's MTV 2 stars
12/31/01 Butterbean A movie that's misjudged by these "critics" and presents Ali's courage through tough times 4 stars
12/31/01 bumpkin Should have been a Spike Lee film. He did much better with Malcolm X in 3 hours. 3 stars
12/29/01 Too Bad Will Smith is buff but that doesnt save this weak movie. Weak story. Sucking of Ali's dick. 2 stars
12/28/01 Mr Math A big let down. Those who say When We Were Kings is superior are very right. 2 stars
12/28/01 Howard LeDet Movie seemed divided into 3 parts only one of which dealt w/Ali. 2 stars
12/27/01 Sal Gal See the real movie about Ali - when we were kings 3 stars
12/27/01 Todd Best boxing scenes ever, but the rest of the movie is dull as shit. 1 stars
12/23/01 Benjamin.Lesbian Don't waste your time, go see 'When we were Kings' intead 2 stars
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  25-Dec-2001 (R)
  DVD: 01-Jun-2004



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