In a post-Creed world, shouldn’t we expect more from sports movies?
Warning: some spoilers ahead.
Those of you who might be familiar with the life of former heavyweight champion George Foreman know that he eventually became an ordained minister. After an Icarus-like rise to fame sabotages other aspects of Foreman’s life, a religious epiphany compels the boxer to put down the gloves and take up preaching, until higher powers pull him into the ring once again.
There is a way to handle this kind of transformation with heart and depth—just look at films like Prince of Egypt or Sister Act—without turning the narrative into contrived, Hillsong cinema. This is a sports biopic, after all. And in a post-Creed world, the audience knows to expect more from sports movies than just the filmic equivalent of motivational axioms.
But pithy platitudes litter the entirety of Big George Foreman, which purports to be a story about one of the greatest boxers of all time, but turns out to be schlock. VeggiesTales was at least camp, but this? It’s cheese.
Big George Foreman was produced by Affirm Films, which was responsible for Fireproof; that faith-based film everybody knows because their Catholic school made them watch it during a retreat. Evangelical cinema of that bend has a certain undeniable feel that eschews nuance and depth in favor of ham-handed proselytization, and it is apparent right from the first act. Disembodied voice narration by Khris Davis, who plays George Foreman, is delivered with the cadence of a guidance counselor. Expositional beats of bullying, financial struggle and grueling training all serve to tee Foreman up for the narrative climax of conversion.
None of these are the fault of George Foreman’s actual life. The facts of Foreman’s experience, the journey of his faith and his struggles as an athlete aren’t inherent indicators of cheese. Foreman’s life is inspirational, and even Oscar-worthy in the right hands. I think what director George Tillman Jr. was going for was something Spielbergian—family-friendly with the tint and polish of a 90s blockbuster. It is a mystery to me though what exactly renders Davis’ portrayal of Foreman as wooden and bumbling, considering the actor’s experience working on Judas and the Black Messiah, and a Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman.
I venture to guess it was Affirm Films as a studio—which paved the way for other similarly corny platforms such as Pure Flix—that blighted the project from the beginning. I mean look at the poster! It’s giving The Rapture by Tim LaHaye.
But let’s redeem this Christian film. The camera-work and color grading are eye-catching, the soundtrack slaps and Forest Whitaker’s performance is always gripping no matter what role he plays. And we should be so lucky that the movie at least acknowledges the race issues that pervaded Foreman’s life instead of ignoring them entirely. I was especially entertained by Sullivan Jones’ portrayal of Muhammad Ali, who was easily the most charismatic person in the entire film.
Big George Foreman gets those things right at least, but none of it is nearly enough to make up for all the film’s Saddleback schmaltz. I’d watch Creed 3 to cleanse the palate, but I can’t really stomach anything with Jonathan Majors in it right now.
Catch “Big George Foreman” in cinemas, out now.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Macky Arquilla