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‘Real Rocky’ tells his story in so-so drama ‘Chuck’

First Published      Last Updated May 19 2017 12:39 pm

They say truth is stranger than fiction, but in the case of the biographical drama "Chuck," it's not necessarily more interesting.

Chuck Wepner was a heavyweight boxer from New Jersey, dismissively nicknamed "The Bayonne Bleeder" for his habit of spurting blood when hit above his eye. In the early 1970s, Wepner was ranked in the top 10 among heavyweights, though the closest he got to the title was going nearly 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1974, just after Ali beat George Foreman in "the Rumble in the Jungle."

"You don't know me. You know me, but you don't know you know me," Wepner (played by Liev Schreiber) says to start the movie's wall-to-wall narration. He proceeds to tell his story, of a rough-and-tumble club fighter who was enough of a local celebrity that he could pick up any attractive Bayonne woman he wanted — which didn't sit well with his wife, Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss).




Wepner's fame only grew after the Ali fight, which made him a Bayonne hero. It also inspired Sylvester Stallone's script for "Rocky," which made Wepner's head swell even bigger. His decline was accelerated when a nightclub owner (Jason Jones) introduced him and his buddy John (Jim Gaffigan) to the hip new drug of the disco era: cocaine.

Director Philippe Falardeau ("Monsieur Lazhar") takes a much-handled script — four writers are credited, including Schreiber himself — and dutifully chronicles Wepner's rise to the near-top and the inevitable fall. Every beat of the story, as Wepner's excesses tear apart his personal life, is woefully predictable and too depressing for Stallone to put in a "Rocky" movie.

Backed by a solid supporting cast — including Ron Perlman as Wepner's crusty manager, Michael Rapoport as the boxer's estranged brother, and Schreiber's ex-girlfriend Naomi Watts as a spunky bartender who resists his charms — Schreiber gets deep into Wepner's hard-partying self-destructive mindset. He gives a soulful, lived-in performance that deserves a movie that's not a by-the-numbers biography like this one.

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Twitter: @moviecricket

 

AT A GLANCE

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‘Chuck’

The real-life story of the boxer who inspired “Rocky” gets a standard biopic treatment.

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas.

When » Opens Friday.

Rating » R for language throughout, drug use, sexuality/nudity and some bloody images.

Running time » 99 minutes.


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