Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan, Morgan Spector, Pooch Hall, Wass Stevens, Melo Ludwig, Sadie Sink
Written by: Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl, Michael Cristofer, Liev Schreiber
Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some bloody images
Running Time: 101
Date: 05/04/2017

Chuck (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Rocky Roarer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on the true story of Chuck Wepner, this biopic seems more like an anecdote than a story, more potential than payoff, but the lack of important events allows room for the character to come alive.

In Chuck -- originally titled The Bleeder -- Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber) is a liquor salesman by day and a heavyweight boxer by night. Nicknamed "The Bayonne Bleeder," he is able to take a punch, even though he seems to cut easily. In 1975, thanks to a combination of luck, timing, and publicity, he gets a shot at fighting none other than heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (who just nabbed the title from George Foreman).

Most pundits predict that Chuck will lose, but he still goes 15 rounds and manages to knock Ali down once. After, Chuck discovers cocaine and begins focusing on enjoying his fame and having a good time. A year later, he learns that Sylvester Stallone's hit film Rocky was inspired by him, and he begins trying to add that to his dwindling fame. He meets Stallone and auditions for a part in Rocky II, but already it's clear that this chapter of Chuck's life is over. But what's next?

In Chuck, Liev Schreiber is quite impressive as the boxer, physically transforming into the real thing, battling it out in the ring covered in sweat and blood, and finding an emotional core to the wants and needs of this character, the tragedy of nearly achieving fame and then losing it.

The Ali fight and the meetings with Stallone are clearly the highlights of the movie, as they were in Chuck's life, and director Philippe Falardeau gives them an irresistible energy (the actors that portray these legends in their youth are a fine touch, as well). The character's life goes downhill, and though — through the grimy, gaudy cinematography — it may seem as if the film is also going that way, it somehow stays emotionally potent.

Despite the fact that Chuck makes many of the mistakes that characters in biopics usually make (drugs, foolishly spending money, alienating his wife and kids, etc.), they seem like honest mistakes. And, like the little poems Chuck tries to write for people, the movie turns out to be both naïve and sweetly appealing. Naomi Watts helps a great deal as the wise, cynical bartender who catches Chuck's eye.

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