Chuck  (2016)

I had heard the basics of the Chuck Wepner story. I knew of the "Bayonne Bleeder", I knew he was one of the few people to knock down Muhammad Ali (I also knew about the foot controversy), and I knew Slyvester Stallone was inspired by that fight to write "Rocky" - beyond those big points, I had no idea about Wepner's life.

Liev Schreiber portrays Chuck Wepner. We get a quick glimpse of his childhood, but for the most part things kick in as Wepner is in the prime of his boxing career. He has a reputation of a guy who can take a punch, who will keep coming back for more, and who bleeds like a stuck pig. He manages to land a spot in the top 10 in the world rankings, and Don King taps him to take on Muhammad Ali.

Schreiber has been mostly positive from what I've seen him in, and he is solid here. His voice is also perfect for the narrative portions, a nice deep tone with some vocal fry. Elisabeth Moss fits as Wepner's first wife, and Naomi Watts (gorgeous as a redhead) works despite pushing through a stereotypical North Jersey accent. A supporting cast of Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan are strong additions. Pooch Hall as Ali was pretty good, but the biggest surprise was Morgan Spector's incredible Stallone impersonation.

I think I've watched more boxing movies than actual boxing matches. I've seen Rocky I-VI (still haven't gotten around to 'Creed'), I've seen Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby, The Fighter...and I've definitely enjoyed boxing movies much more than the real thing. Obviously, since Rocky was based on the real-life Wepner, a lot of the story beats felt familiar. It was sort of meta, like watching a prequel but not really. It also reminded me a lot of Raging Bull, which is also sort of meta because Raging Bull was a biopic too. Chuck Wepner reminded me a lot of Jake LaMotta, a sort of charming lunkhead asshole who was good at being a brute.

The run of biopics make you wonder if there are literally any "good guy" celebrities. I get that the rise and fall and redemption are what make an interesting story - if someone was a perfect student, caught all the right breaks, and lived happily ever after, it wouldn't make for a good movie. Still, seeing the "man cheats on his wife, gets hooked on drugs, hits rock bottom, cleans himself up, reunites with estranged family" story again just feels repetitive. Not bad, just well-worn territory.

[Celluloid Hero] gives "Chuck" a 6 out of 10.




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