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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 Erik Childress

"Ali: The Greatest Hits"
3 stars

Ali is not so much a movie as it is a greatest hits package. Like the musical artists who have nothing new to offer, Ali tells us about only ten years in the life of the boxing champ known as ďthe greatest.Ē Those who grew up with him or anyone who has seen the countless documentaries produced over the years will learn nothing new from Michael Mannís pic, which barely qualifies for the prefix bio. Quite a shame since a new generation that may know next-to-little other than Aliís name may be left wondering what exactly was so great about him.

Starting in 1964 with a montage set to Sam Cooke that seems to last for a half-hour, Ali begins with his first battle with Sonny Liston. Brash and talking trash, Cassius Clay backs up his words with action in an incredibly well filmed match. Nearly immediately after, he announces to the world that Clay is his ďslave nameĒ and heís changing his name to Muhammad Ali because ďnobody owns him.Ē Itís only been 20 minutes and already weíve arrived at a moment that should have been a dramatic high point. Here itís just factual information.

The next half-hour plays out like ďOliver Stoneís AliĒ as the newly reigned champ practically becomes a supporting character to his own religion. The Nation of Islam becomes the focus of this section as the media and the leaders of that religion test Aliís relationship to Malcolm X (a surprisingly good Mario Van Peebles). Government agents become involved on the in-and-outside and the movie threatens to become more about the scene of Malcolmís assassination than anything we see in the ring.

The film then struggles to refocus, giving us the basics of the man himself, his refusal to be drafted in another manís war, the boxing suspension and eventual fight with Joe Frazier. But the big moments almost seem like afterthoughts; a brief epilogue to all the details leading up to them, which is buried most of the time in musical montages and quickly edited dialogue exchanges.

The only time the film blasts through the stratosphere is within the scenes between Ali and Howard Cosell (Jon Voight in a destined-for-Oscar performance and his second latex-induced performance of the year after Roosevelt in Pearl Harbor). Their scenes obviously have a comic relief feel to them, but it remains the only relationship in the film allowed the time to develop. Smith and Voight fall into their rhythms with absolute perfection during the interview sessions and are then allowed some beautiful private time (on the phone or by a coffee machine) to talk frankly as we get the sense that Cosell really cared for this guy and that affection was appreciated like no other by the champ.

A perfect example of one of Aliís closest relationships not experienced by the audience is that with Drew 'Bundini' Brown (a terrific Jamie Foxx). From all we get out of the film, he was a corner man of Aliís who liked to rhyme and eventually spiraled into drugs and sold the champís belt during his three-year layoff from the ring. We never see much of this arc and never find out anything more. Iíve had to learn everything about him from Foxxís stint on the interview circuit. Three wives come and go and seem to never get beyond the courtship and then a brief scene of marriage problems (in the religion or never being home milieu). His trainer, Angelo Dundee (Ron Silver) also gets the short end. It takes a scene late in the film with Don King (a very good Myketi Williamson) to seemingly even acknowledge that he knows he exists and how much he cares for him. And whatís with Paul Rodriguez in the biggest nothing of a role for a name actor since Dan Hedaya stared his way through Oliver Stoneís Nixon. Ali going for Cosellís hairpiece on the television interview says more about this connection than anything else in the film does. Cosell reels back from Aliís attempt, but then settles in, knowing that Ali is just playing and wonít actually humiliate him like that. Maybe this is how most of the American public felt towards Ali as well.

The phenomenon of Ali probably needs to be explained to the decade-late generations, as even I wonder about it from time to time. In this age when the media hasnít really changed, only grown, and we criticize professional athletes for self-appreciating comments (Randy Moss, Allen Iverson and Barry Bonds to name a few) how come Ali become such a hero and so loved? Was it really for standing up for what he believed when Iím sure a large segment of the populace considered him a draft dodger? Was it because what he said was funny and quotable; humor being the great icebreaker of any situation? Or was it because he truly was the greatest; a man who through his craft would never have to worry about being called the Babe Ruth or the Michael Jordan of his sport, because he was his own name. This movie doesnít give us any answers.

I was almost ready to recommend this film on the strength of its performances and for the scenes between Ali and Cosell, a friendship that deserves its own movie. But when an 158-minute film fails to provide less insight into the legend than the barber shop arguments in Coming to America, then its not worthy of our attention, let alone worthy of the man himself. Michael Mann who has done nothing but great work in the past (The Insider, Heat, The Last of the Mohicans, Manhunter, Thief) here seems to be a director auditioning to be an artiste when heís already proven himself time and time again.

The 10-year period, which Ali covers from the Liston fight to the Rumble of the Jungle, is clearly the high-and-low point of Aliís career, but why would you just focus on that? Did anything happen before his match with Liston? How about that little thing he was in called the Olympics? Or what about after the Foreman fight in Africa? Maybe jumping forward to Aliís biggest fight (with Multiple Sclerosis) would have proved too difficult a transition, yet the film ends as if nothing happened to Ali after this fight? Even Behind Enemy Lines had title cards to tell us what happened to its less-than-memorable characters before the credits rolled. Thus turning this into a story that seems more like a made-for-television movie in the late 70s or early 80s when time would still tell what would become of the champ.

So then what becomes the point of the film? To be a rousing underdog story with the big rousing, a biopic without the bio? What? For those really curious about the film, Iíd suggest waiting for video and in the meantime watch ESPNís Greatest Athletes series or rent the ultimate Ali documentary When We Were Kings about that little jungle rumble. Great, Oscar-worthy performances aside, audiences deserve more than that and so does The Greatest.

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originally posted: 12/28/01 11:52:02
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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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