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Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Greatest

Muhammad Ali (1977)

We really hate to do this, but here goes: at the height of his career and celebrity, it seemed as if there was no reason that Muhammad Ali could't be a movie star, if he wanted to be, and if it didn't take too much time away from any plans he had to declare himself Emperor of the Universe. All he needed was the right role, a part that would give him the chance to fill the screen with the energy, verbal wit, serpent's cunning and deep humanity at his command, and he finally got it when he played Muhammad Ali in Leon Gast's When We Were Kings, the long-delayed and fully satisfying 1996 documentary record of the 1974 fight in Zaire against George Foreman. But when Ali tried to literally play himself in the biopic The Greatest, none of that really came across. The chance to work with Ali attracted a remarkable cast, ranging from James Earl Jones as Malcolm X, John Marley as the ringside doctor Ferdy Pacheco, and Roger E. Mosley as Sonny Liston to Robert Duvall and Paul Winfield in what are virtually bit parts, but Ali must have seen the movie as a chance less to explore his past than to clean up and sanitize it; he comes across as such a dull, nice guy it's hard to know why anyone would want to make a movie about him. A couple of years later, Ali delivered his only other major "acting" performance in the controversial, syndicated TV miniseries Freedom Road, and in the process confirmed that while he couldn't play himself un-self-consciously, he also couldn't play someone else without giving the impression that he couldn't wait to get back to being Muhammad Ali. He put his art into his life, which is why he was made for documentary film.

From IW: That's pretty darn bad when you can't even play yourself.


CapCity said...

in all fairness to Ali - one of my Greatest Love's of ALL time - EVERYone in that movie was terrible! LOL!

Invisible Woman said...

100% agreed, capcity!