Blame Ms Brockovich. After Julia Roberts tucked an Oscar into her handbag by playing the crusading legal eagle, Hollywood starlets have been desperate to get in on the ball-busting action.
Inspired by the story of real-life boxing manager Jackie Kallen, Against The Ropes does Brockovich with boxing gloves as Ryan plays the gutsy gal determined to break into the male-dominated fight club. And trust us, Kallen was one lady who could swing with the big dicks. Picking street-brawler Luther (Epps) off the street, and enlisting the help of veteran trainer Felix (Dutton), Kallen sets out to go where no woman has gone before.
We all love an underdog, which is why this rags-to-riches story ought to be ripe for the Hollywood treatment. As it turns out, though, the uneven storyline has problems deciding where the action really lies: is it literally against the ropes where ghetto street fighter Luther opens an XXL can of whup-ass on any fool silly enough to stand in front of him? Or is it in the behind-the-scenes verbal sparring, where Ryan goes nose-to-nose with a Mafia-connected boxing kingpin (Shalhoub)?
Given that it's Kallen's story, the answer should have been a no-brainer. It's a shame, then, that screenwriter Cheryl Edwards and director Dutton tie themselves in knots trying to please all men and all women equally with a movie that's stranded somewhere between a Rocky clone and chick flick.
More interested in the action inside the ring than in Kallen's rise to the top, Dutton concentrates on the tense fight scenes where the excellent Epps boxes his way from chump to champ. It's gripping stuff, but it leaves Ryan on the sidelines looking about as useful as a cat-flap on a submarine. To compensate, she squeezes herself into a selection of outfits that would make a Hollywood Boulevard hooker blush in a vague attempt to play sexy and sassy. Given few opportunities to show her ball-busting mettle, Ryan's emotional payoff - in which Kallen realises the dangers of being overly ambitious - rings completely false. With its release date delayed for more than a year as nervous suits tried to work out what the hell to do with it, Against The Ropes never manages to punch above its weight. Looking more like a TV movie than a blockbuster contender, it's a slick-but-soulless sports movie that's an easy ride rather than a raging bull.