CHUCK, drama, R, Vi­o­let Crown,

Pasatiempo - - RANDOM ACTS - Mad Men’s Rocky Rocky II. The Bleeder) (Mon­sieur Lazhar) Re­quiem for a Heavy­weight,

If cast­ing were all that mat­tered, this film coulda been a con­tender. Liev Schreiber plays Chuck Wep­ner, the New Jer­sey heavy­weight known as the Bay­onne Bleeder (the movie’s orig­i­nal ti­tle was who earned him­self a mea­sure of lo­cal le­gend by go­ing (al­most) 15 rounds with Muham­mad Ali (Pooch Hall) in 1975. Ali fin­ished him off on a TKO with 19 sec­onds left in the fight, and Wep­ner’s face a mask of gore. Schreiber is a fine ac­tor. In his loud checked jack­ets and Sonny Bono mus­tache, he cap­tures the spirit of the man and the place and the era, and he trained him­self into plau­si­ble fight­ing shape for this role; but no amount of act­ing chops and friendly makeup can dis­guise the fact that at nearly fifty, he’s more than a dozen years older than Wep­ner was when he stepped into the ring that night.

Chuck Wep­ner had a day job ped­dling liquor to New Jer­sey bars, where he spent a lot of time, and a wife and young daugh­ter at home, where he didn’t. Elis­a­beth Moss gives the movie’s stand­out per­for­mance as Wep­ner’s wife Phyliss, and a scene where she finds her er­rant hubby in a diner with a bimbo is as much of a knock­out as any­thing Chuck ever dished out.

The Ali fight proves Wep­ner’s un­do­ing. Wel­comed back to the neigh­bor­hood as a hero af­ter nearly go­ing the dis­tance with the two-time champ, he slides into a life of wine, women, song, and a bl­iz­zard of co­caine. Sur­rounded by pals like his man­ager (Ron Perl­man) and his best friend (a like­able Jim Gaf­fi­gan), and a mot­ley crew of hang­ers-on, his life hits the can­vas.

Then the movie comes out, and Wep­ner rec­og­nizes him­self, cor­rectly, as the model for Sylvester Stal­lone’s punch-drunk hero. He en­gi­neers a meet­ing with Stal­lone (beau­ti­fully played by Morgan Spec­tor), who greets him with open arms and even in­vites him to come au­di­tion for a small part in Had Wep­ner put even a quar­ter of the ef­fort into pre­par­ing for the au­di­tion that he did into train­ing for the Ali fight, it’s clear Stal­lone would have bent over back­ward to find a spot for him in the movie. But Chuck blun­ders in un­pre­pared, stoked on coke and blus­ter, and blows his chance.

The other act­ing heavy­weight in this life story is Naomi Watts, who makes the most of a few scenes as a tart-tongued bar­tender who won’t give the champ a tum­ble un­til he’s sin­gle and ready to re­form.

Cana­dian di­rec­tor Philippe Falardeau has crafted a cau­tion­ary tale, told with af­fec­tion and a lac­ing of re­gret, about a man of lim­ited ca­pa­bil­i­ties but a good heart. It’s not on the level of the great box­ing movies (like Wep­ner’s muchviewed fa­vorite), but it man­ages to hang in there doggedly for a few rounds. — Jonathan Richards

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