Walking down 34th Street to the theater, I was expecting Notorious with a sprinkle of When We Were Kings. I love Mike like I love Biggie, and looked forward to seeing and hearing them on the big screen, but I know all the plot points so it can't be too great, right?
Then the movie starts. Great opening montage of Mike's first title fight. And on the big screen in surround sound with an audience oohing it's amazing, and I'm like goddamn I've missed seeing him fight.
Then the movie proper starts, and I remember the only thing I miss more than seeing Mike fight is hearing Mike talk.
And that's what we get through the whole film, nothing but archival footage and Mike now reflecting back on his entire life. We never hear an interviewer's question, so it plays like an autobiography mixed over one of boxing's greatest highlight reels. And Mike, who's an executive producer on the film, sounds realer and more comfortable than I ever remember hearing him.
Is it gonna change anybody's mind? I like to think it might if it lures in a few open minds. Somebody's got to see something of what I've always seen in Mike -- something out of epic literature, such savage power and such profound loneliness that I'm this close to launching into Stan Lee's monologue from Mallrats.
So if you go looking for humanity, you'll probably see it. If you go for the fights on a big screen with big sound and an audience, you'll be happy. Or if you just go to snicker at the freak show, you'll get that too.
The film is mostly laid out chronologically -- we start with Mike growing up on the mean streets of Brownville, a fat kid like the young Biggie shocked by the cruelty of strangers who steal his glasses for no reason. The pigeon incident that leads him to his first fight, his first arrest at 12 when he says the cops caught him with $1500 in his pocket.
There's Mike choking up talking about his legendary mentor/trainer Cus D'Amato, but what he can barely keep it together to say is that what he's most grateful for is that Cus got him to the point where he knew no one would ever be able to fuck with him ever again.
Speaking of fucking, the film is probably at its most intense when Mike talks sex. There's no greater feeling in the world than after a long time abstaining from sex finally having sex. His marriage to Robin Givens was nobody's fault, they were just kids. He has some pretty nasty words for Desiree Washington, the woman he was convicted of raping. While he still maintains those charges were false, he says there may have been other women he took advantage of. Later, over footage of him walking alone on a beach, he talks about liking to sexually dominate women and that his favorite thing to say during sex is No.
And still, Mike manages to come off sympathetically. He's got a lot of demons, no doubt, but he does seem to genuinely want to be a good person and a good father to his six kids (including one named Exodus). Personally, I left the theater wondering why HBO or Showtime don't try to give him an analyst gig. Wouldn't that be a dream?
--written by special correspondent David Chalk of Bugs & Cranks who covered the movie on behalf of HHR.
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