The Great White Hype (1996) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for sexual references and language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Damon Wayans, Peter Berg, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Jace, Jamie Foxx, Jon Lovitz, Corbin Bernsen, Cheech Marin, Salli Richardson, John Rhys-Davies, Brian Setzer (cameo), Method Man (cameo)
Director: Reginald Hudlin
Screenplay: Tony Hendra, Ron Shelton
Review published November 5, 2006
The Great White Hype is a broad satire of the boxing industry, particularly in how publicity and marketing govern the suitability of one's rise to the top more so than sheer talent. Spoofing everything from Don King to playing off of racial and ethnic interests, the screenplay by Tony Hendra and Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Hollywood Homicide) employs a kitchen sink approach, which does offer up a few sporadic laughs, but fails to sustain the rhythm necessary to keep the momentum going throughout.
Samuel L. Jackson (Die Hard with a Vengeance, Pulp Fiction) stars as Reverend Fred Sultan, the loud-mouthed, turban-wearing promoter of the current heavyweight champ, James 'The Grim Reaper' Roper (Wayans, Blankman). The revenues have been down, as Roper has been challenging lackluster fighters, which has muted fan interest to the point of indifference. While there is a viable challenger in Marvin Shabazz (Jace, The Replacements), Sultan wants to keep the ball rolling with Roper, and to spark media interest again, he scouts the country for the one contender that will be sure to get everyone watching again -- a white man.
That white contender is none other than rock group singer Terry Conklin (Berg, Cop Land), who happens to be the only person to ever defeat Roper in a contest, albeit an amateur match when they were teenagers. All eyes are on the new contest, although the champ doesn't seem to care, letting himself go physically, thinking that his "Blackness" will beat the white man in the ring.
The old adage, "Too many cooks spoil the broth" can easily be adapted to, "Too many comedians spoil the comedy", as The Great White Hype suffers from too many competing personalities in front of the camera, many of them ad-libbing their way through entire scenes, sometimes getting a a laugh, sometimes not. For only a 90-minute film, this is a case where some streamlining of characters could have proven more successful, and perhaps a bolstering of the anemic screenplay to include some developments of interest along the way.
For every smart and funny scene, there are at least two that serve no purpose to the plot of the film, and enhance the comedic value minimally at best. Reginald Hudlin, who has made large ensemble films in the past with success (House Party, Boomerang), seems to be in over his head in trying to keep everyone on the same comedic page. It also doesn't help that we have little to no rooting interest in the big fight, not caring who wins or loses, and once we finally find out, not finding much meaning in it.
The Great White Hype is amiable in its own fashion, but lacks that true bite that marks a great satire. It plays more like a series of skits revolving around the same subject, never congealing into a solid form that would allow us to grasp the real meaning of it all and come away satisfied. Stereotypes abound, as well as politically incorrect humor, but it sure would be nice to have a movie that gave us a main event instead of a series of hit-and-miss scenes leading up to something rather uneventful.
©2006 Vince Leo