Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With Southpaw stepping into the ring next week, and the Rocky spinoff Creed on its way this autumn, let’s cheer on some of the great boxing movies of yesteryear.
The Great White Hype (1996)
A clever and subversive inversion of Rocky in which the punch-drunk, plucked-from-obscurity caucasian really is just a tomato-can-in-waiting for the athletically superior black champion, Reginald Hudlin’s comedy The Great White Hype features a wonderfully eclectic cast: In addition to Samuel L. Jackson’s swaggering, full-regalia Don King impersonation, it offers up Jeff Goldblum as an unscrupulous journalist, Jon Lovitz and Cheech Marin as skeevy trainers, and Jamie Foxx as a righteous hype man (a warm-up for his turn as Bundini Brown in Ali). The featured pugilist, meanwhile, is Peter Berg, playing a sweetly dim heavy-metal singer repackaged by Jackson’s impresario as a fighting-Irish million-dollar baby to lure a white pay-per-view audience alienated by the cruise-controlled mastery of Damon Wayans’ world champion.
Considered a bit too on-the-nose in the mid-’90s—as well as maybe not quite outrageous enough, given how crazy Mike Tyson was behaving around the same time—the film looks now like a prescient satire about the impending commercial and ethical decline of heavyweight prize fighting. It depicts spectacle overwhelming competition, and rendering boxing a sideshow to the real, multimedia main event. (It’s a running joke that Jackson’s press conferences are more exciting than the title bouts he promotes.) It’s also really, really funny, never more so than when Wayans devotedly watches clips in his dressing room of Rudy Ray Moore as Dolemite (whom he then emulates in a different way by putting on 20 or so pounds of saggy, unsightly belly fat). He’s a proto-Floyd Mayweather, unapologetically wallowing in his own crapulence, and Hudlin’s film is sly enough to give him his due before knocking him flat on his ass—a not-quite sucker punch that sets up the bottomlessly cynical final shot.
Availability: The Great White Hype is available on DVD from Netflix or possibly your local video store/library.