The More You Love, The Harder You Fight.
Oh Ricky you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind. Hey, Ricky! Hey Ricky!
The Champ is a syrupy, drippy, cloyingly sweet story of a son's enduring love for his troubled father. After two hours, I needed to take a shower to try and scrub the stickiness off me. So overly melodramatic and sentimental, this movie pulls out every trick in the book to make you cry. It may have worked some twenty-odd years ago, but today it feels like a Lifetime movie of the week.
Facts of the Case
Billy Flynn (Jon Voight, Ali, Pearl Harbor, Midnight Cowboy) is the former lightweight boxing champion of the world. He gave up boxing seven years ago soon after the birth of his son T.J. (Rick Schroder, Crimson Tide, NYPD Blue, Silver Spoons). Wanting to be the best father possible, he gave up his title so he could spend time with his boy. And his efforts have succeeded as T.J. is a one-in-a-million kid: he's sweet, caring, honest, loyal, and loving. But most of all, he absolutely adores his father, who he always calls "Champ."
Billy and T.J. work and live at the Hialeah horseracing track down in Florida. It's not a glamorous life, but the two of them are happy and healthy. However, Billy realizes that he wants more for his son but that he'll probably never be able to give it to him by working with horses. Thus, he decides to begin his comeback to boxing. T.J. absolutely loves his father and is ecstatic that his dad is going back into the ring; after all, his dad is The Champ. The two of them make their way to Billy's old training gym where Billy is to meet up with some former colleagues. Soon after their arrival, Billy gets very nervous and decides to exit, post haste.
Unfortunately, Billy is a man with many problems, namely gambling and drinking. While he dearly loves his son, he cannot get control over his vices, which could lead to his downfall. As soon as he leaves the gym, he makes a straight line to the nearest bar where he ends up getting very drunk. T.J. eventually finds him and drags his dad home. Billy is ashamed of what he did that day, and he promises to T.J. that he will never drink nor gamble again; he will take control of his life. But that's a lie, and that night he steals money from his son's piggy bank and goes gambling.
The next morning Billy returns from gambling a winner. He had a very lucky run during a craps game and turned $20 into $6400. In his joy, he buys all of his friends gifts, but best of all, he uses most of his winnings to buy his son a racehorse named She's a Lady. Soon thereafter, Billy's return to the ring is forgotten as they prepare their horse for the track. When they take their horse to the track for its first race, T.J. unknowingly bumps into his estranged mother Annie (Faye Dunaway, The Thomas Crown Affair, Supergirl, Chinatown). As it's been seven years since her divorce from Billy, she doesn't know that T.J. is her son. During this meeting, Annie is charmed by little T.J. and agrees to bet on his horse.
And the race begins! It's a tight race and She's a Lady is doing well, but is not leading the pack. As we get into the final stretch, She's a Lady makes her move and quickly moves up to the front. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes as Lady trips and falls and is out of the race. T.J., Billy, and Annie are mortified when the horse falls and all quickly run to the horse. At the stable, Annie bumps into Billy and then realizes that T.J. is her son.
As we find out that She's a Lady will be fine, Annie realizes that she misses her son and wants to be a part of his life. Billy adamantly does not want that. After all, he's raised the boy alone for seven years; she didn't want any part of changing diapers or teaching him right from wrong so she shouldn't get involved now. Nonetheless, Billy eventually relents and lets T.J. visit his "friend" Annie.
Annie soon discovers that she loves her son and desperately wants him to know that she is his mother. As Billy told T.J. that his real mom is dead, that is a problem. Nonetheless, she continues to pressure Billy to reveal the truth. Additionally, Billy feels the pressure of high society bearing down on him. While he's a simple stable hand, Annie is married to a doctor and has a lot of money and expensive items at her disposal. Billy doesn't believe he can compete with Annie's money. What can he do? He knows his son adores him, but he thinks he's losing his son to Annie and her money. He decides that his only chance to keep his son is to get back into the ring and reclaim his title. Will T.J. learn that Annie is his mother? Will Billy reclaim his title? Will everyone live happily ever after?
The Champ is presented to us in a decent anamorphic widescreen presentation, and it looks pretty good for its age. The colors are accurate, but not overly rich or bold; there is no edge enhancement or artifacting; and the print is mostly dirt free. Aside from the occasional specks of dirt and some light grain in dawn/dusk and night scenes, it is a soft transfer but respectable for a twenty-three year old film. Your audio choice is limited to a 2.0 Dolby Digital track (unless you're fluent in French) that leaves much to be desired. While the dialogue is clear, the track often gets hollow and tinny. In a few cases, the audio is quite muffled and sounds like it was dubbed in a tunnel.
There are a few bonus features on the disc, but I was not impressed by any of them. The main special feature is a commentary track with Jon Voight and Rick Schroder. The two of them have very little to offer during the track, and they often get absorbed in watching the scenes and forget to talk. In the end, it's not a track where you will learn anything exceptional nor want to listen to again. You also get a six-minute behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the film. In actuality, it's no more than a 1979 fluff piece of the film. There is also a cast and crew bio section, an awards section (which list only one award!), and the theatrical trailer. The package also states that the trailer from the original 1931 version is included, but I couldn't find it on the disc.
Sorry, everyone, but I did not enjoy this film. While the acting is quite good (more on that a bit later), the story just did not appeal to me on any level. I just wasn't in the mood for all the sentimentality being ladled upon me. As you may know, this film is a remake of the 1931 Oscar winning movie of the same name. Why was it remade? Was it to cash in on the Rocky bandwagon, or was it meant to compete with Kramer vs. Kramer, also released at that time? I'm not sure; maybe neither guess is right. All I know is that this movie is just too heavy handed for me. I know that many people believe this to be a great family movie with an exceptional message of love, but I'm not so sure. In the end, what have our characters accomplished? What have they gained? Are they better off when all is said and done? What did they learn? In my opinion, I think they are all worse off and that's not a happy message.
Little Ricky Schroder is quite exceptional in his first role of any kind. Before his days on Silver Spoons, this kid could really act. He absolutely emotes his undying love for his father and is the strongest player in this movie. Quite simply, the kid is good! Jon Voight was a surprise for me as I'd never seen him in a good guy role. I'm used to him being the bad guy, and I was delighted at how well he played the loving father. And toss in a solid performance by Faye Dunaway, and I have no complaints about the acting. Too bad they didn't have a better story to work with.
Now, forgive my ignorance, but just who is this director, Franco Zeffirelli? I see that he's directed Tea with Mussolini, Jane Eyre, and Endless Love; but these all came after The Champ. I'm not sure why his name is plastered so prominently on the packaging and why he's praised so much on the bonus features. While I have no complaints with his direction of this film, I wasn't overly impressed. He doesn't stand out as a premier director by my reckoning. So, am I missing something? Please, enlighten me.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This film is a warm and inspirational tale that shows how the strength of a family can help overcome adversity and misfortune. Outstanding acting performances easily convey how important love and loyalty is to life. A movie with a strong family message, The Champ is even more relevant today in hopes of conveying the importance of family values.
The strong acting just wasn't enough for me to like this film. All of the stops are pulled out to play with your emotions. Look at how much everyone loves each other! Look at how everyone wants to the right thing for each other! Look at the self-sacrifice! It's just too much: too much love, too much adoration, too much emotion. There is so much time spent on focusing on the emotional aspect of the characters that I forgot that a main thrust of this film is boxing. As you can guess, I do not recommend this movie, unless you really enjoy having your emotions played with in an attempt to make you cry.
Warner is sentenced to two months for hiding this histrionic story in the guise of a boxing movie. Movies must be clearly labeled to avoid confusion. Case adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Audio Commentary with Jon Voight and Rick Schroder
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