Undefeated (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

The thing I want to talk about with this movie is not the movie itself, which is a boxing movie exactly like every other boxing movie you have seen.

Here's the summary:

A poor Latino kid from the New York streets rises to the top in the boxing ranks, but gradually pushes away all of his old neighborhood friends so he can party with the Manhattan set. He gets a beautiful recording artist of a girlfriend, a plush mansion in the 'burbs, and lots of new friends. He wins the title. He thinks life is pretty cool until the day when his new manager asks him to throw a fight. Then he begins to question everything in his life, because everything he once believed seems to be false. He sees signs, real or imagined, that his girlfriend may be getting paid to be his girlfriend. He thinks that he's never actually won a fight on his own, but has only been on the other side of the fix. He realizes that none of his new friends are friends at all. He finds out there may not have been any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He finds out that WWE wrestling results may be pre-arranged. Then he goes back to his old neighborhood, apologizes to some of the homies, and finds out that they are betting on him in his next fight, "because choo represent us, mang. It's a sign of respect."

Now what will he do? Voices run through his head, talking to him from the past through vales of karma. The boxer hears the old sincere guy who used to be his trainer before the slick weasels edged him out. The he hears the voice of his own brother saying, "I just want to work 23 hours a day so you can be the best." And so forth. 

What will he do in the title defense he is supposed to throw? What WILL he do?

You've seen that before, right?


Breasts and buns in good light from two actresses:

  • Vanessa Ferlito, in a lead
  • Suzy McCoppin, in a minor role as a call girl

Don't misunderstand me. There is nothing incompetent about this film. It's OK. It's just that there is nothing new to see.

What I really want to talk about is the relationship between HBO and its talent pool. My hat is off to them for being the perfect company in the entertainment industry. Did you ever hear any artists say "HBO fucked me, man"? The cable network does a first-class job on everything, and their management is not afraid to take risks, either with controversial subject matter or on untested talent. This film was written and directed by John Leguizamo, and he also stars as the boxer, a role for which he lost weight, got in tremendous shape, and actually got in the ring against real boxers. ("It hurts", was his concise summary of what happens when a real boxer makes contact with you.) He had never directed a movie, but HBO rolled the dice on him and let him do what he wanted, interfering only enough to ask him what kind of help he needed. Then they guaranteed the film play time and a top-drawer DVD. (HBO has consistently produced pristine prints of their projects in widescreen aspect ratios, anamorphically enhanced. That's really going the extra mile for a feature made for cable TV.)  There isn't much more an artist can ask for. The same network also gave Leguizamo his first big break in comedy, according to the special features on the DVD. HBO's productions function the way Corman's productions used to function in the 60s and 70s, as the training grounds for talent, except that HBO opens up the checkbook a little wider than Corman.

Do they end up producing some failures? Of course. That's what happens to risk-takers. Not all risks pay off. That's why they are called risks. But the network also stays constantly on the very bleeding edge. Since HBO's introduction, it has virtually re-invented stand-up comedy, and has been a solid, stable voice of tolerance, encouraging and giving voice to gay and lesbian contributors and various other minorities.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen anamorphic.

  • "making of" featurette

  • a special on the HBO films division

So if Undefeated isn't a great breakthrough success, it nonetheless allowed Leguizamo to learn more about the craft of filmmaking, let him live out his dream, and made him feel greatly indebted to HBO for their help. With no previous experience, Leguizamo created a completely coherent and professional-looking film. It's not a masterpiece, but neither was Boxcar Bertha back in the Corman days, and that's where Scorcese learned to do his thing.

You just know that HBO will continue to reap long-term rewards from that kind of positive interaction with the talent pool.

Tuna's comments in yellow:

Undefeated (2003) is a made for TV sports story, fighter variety, written, directed by, and staring John Leguizamo. Leguizamo has boxed since an early age, which helped both the writing and his performance.

All the key elements of this well know genre are present. Poor Hispanic kid from a bad neighborhood has a talent for boxing, and escapes to the good life, which of course proves to seduce him into all sorts of excess. The real conflict in the story has nothing to do with sleazy promoters or managers, but rather his conflict between stardom, and wanting to be loyal to his roots and the home boys. His love interest is played by Vanessa Ferlito.

So the story pretty much follows the genre bible, right up to the final scene, where the movie dared to do something very different. Up to the point, it was enjoyable enough, as the rags to riches to asshole to redemption plot is oft used because it works, but the final scene elevated it to one I will remember.

Sidebar: Another actress was cast in the hooker role, but she showed up to shoot and reneged on her agreement to do complete nudity, so they found Suzy McCoppin in a hurry.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online

The People Vote ...

  • First aired in July 2004 on HBO
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. "If you have never seen a boxing movie, and would like to, and/or if are a Leguizamo fan, there is nothing wrong with this at all. On the other hand, if you have seen other boxing movies, you've seen this one as well."  Tuna says, "If you like the genre, you should enjoy the film, and then there is the unusual ending. C."

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