Starring: Samuel L Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg, Corbin Bernsen, Jon Lovitz, Cheech Marin, Jamie Foxx
Director: Reginald Hudlin
I think anyone who has even a passing interest in professional boxing will realise that the majority of the big fights are a load of hogwash. How many times has Mike Tyson, Prince Naseem or Steve Collins entered the ring against an opponent who had more chance of giving birth than winning the fight.
“The Great White Hype” takes a stab at recreating the marketing machine that is professional boxing. All the important characters are represented here. We have a Don King (Sam Jackson – “Pulp Fiction”, “A Time to Kill”), a Mike Tyson (Damon Wayans – “Last Boyscout”, “Mo Money”) and a Peter McNielly or any other of the dozens of brave no-hopers (Peter Berg – “Last Seduction”, TV’s “Chicago Hope”).
Reverend Fred Sultan (Jackson) has managed the Champ (Wayans) to 30+ knockout title defences but the public are tired of it and the money is just not coming in. In order to raise interest, he tracks down the only man to ever beat the Champ – ten years before when he was an amateur. But Terry Conklin (Berg) is now an out-of-shape guitarist with a fondness for drugs, sex and rock n’ roll. The important fact about Conklin though is that he is different to all the other opponents – he is white.
After some mild persuasion (a $10m pay day), Conklin agrees to fight the Champ and while the press slate it as a total mismatch, the public take to the unknown who has been marketed as ‘Irish’ Terry. Suddenly it is the fight that everyone wants to see and the pay-per-view and gate receipts are going through the roof as Sultan hypes the fight to high heaven. Everyone is dreaming of Conklin against the odds becoming the Champion.
Satirising an entire industry is always going to be a difficult job and “The Great White Hype” falls short in major categories. For a start I would put twenty bucks on this being based on a stage play. The film has this annoying habit of throwing weak, quick-fire dialogue around for 10 minutes in a confined room. While this has worked well in the past (“Six Degrees of Seperation”, “Glengary Glen Ross”), the less-than-punchy [no pun intended] script does it no favours in this case.
There is little in the way of subtlety either. It is always obvious what the film is taking below-the-belt swipes at and very often it’s over-exertion in taking these swipes makes you think that the director thinks you are some sort of fool.
There is a good cast. Apart from those mentioned, Jeff Goldblum plays a reporter who aims to take down Sultan, Jon Lovitz and Cheech Marin are the expendable sidekicks and Corbin Bernsen is the owner of the MGM Grand.
This film portrays the greed, superficiality and hypocrisy that lives on to this day in the boxing world but in many ways it misses the mark and if you understand what the film is saying, you will already have guessed the end by now.