According to the opening credits, Against the Ropes is "inspired by the life of Jackie Kallen." That sounds like a fancy way of saying nobody let the truth get in the way of a good story. The thing is, the truth is a good story when it comes to Jackie Kallen, who made a name for herself in the cigar-chomping world of boxing management, whereas Against the Ropes pulls punches, shadow-boxing with the issues raised by Kallen's struggles. By all accounts, the real-life Kallen is a macher in heels, a one-woman publicity machine who'd had success as a journalist and a TV personality before entering the boxing ring. But in the movie, she's a boxing fan/secretary who can't even see the glass ceiling, let alone bump her head on it. Plus, she's played by Meg Ryan, America's sweetheart.
Make that America's former sweetheart. Ryan hasn't had a hit in a while, and last year's In the Cut, where she bared everything but her soul, didn't exactly bring out her dimples. Neither does Against the Ropes, for the most part, but you can feel her playing against type, lowering her voice and adding what we'll just have to call a Cleveland twang. The movie pits her against a series of men who seem to have testosterone flowing through their veins, and although she's no match for them, cojones-wise, we can't help pulling for her, especially since the script hands her the final word in most of the exchanges. Any similarity to Erin Brockovich is strictly on purpose, right down to the push-up bras and tight skirts. And yet, for all her dressing for sexcess, the movie Kallen appears not to have a romantic life.
She may be too busy making that name for herself. Omar Epps plays a boxer who can take Kallen to the top, and Charles Dutton, who also directed the movie, plays the kind of trainer who "turns chumps into champs." (Ugh.) But Kallen, having been ignored so long, starts to enjoy the spotlight too much -- a rather weird rap to pin on her, given that grabbing the spotlight is the whole reason there's a movie about her in the first place. Besides, when did Don King ever shun the spotlight? Against the Ropes is enjoyable enough to watch, but it makes the major mistake of squeezing Kallen's fascinating life into just about every boxing-moving cliché of the last 100 years. Plus, the boxing itself is surprisingly, disappointingly lame -- no fancy footwork and punches you can see coming from a mile away.