Play It To The Bone

on December 25, 1999 by Mike Kerrigan
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   Ron Shelton wrote and directed one of the greatest movies about baseball ("Bull Durham") and one of the best about basketball ("White Guys Can't Jump"). Now he's got the triple crown with this hilarious but brutal look at two over-the-hill welterweights who get an unexpected shot at the big time.
   Woody Harrelson is Vince, a boxer who sees visions of Jesus and apologizes each time he takes the name of the Lord in vain, which is often. Antonio Banderas is Cesar, a one-time contender who moved from Madrid (which Vince thinks is in Mexico) to Philadelphia "because that's where the best fighters in the world are from." Apart from working out at the same L.A. gym, the other thing these two have in common is Grace (Lolita Davidovich), Vince's ex-girlfriend and Cesar's soon-to-be ex.
   When the fighters on the Mike Tyson undercard are suddenly unavailable--drugs in one case, death in the other--the promoter hires these two for that night's bill. With Grace at the wheel of her muscle car they are all off to Vegas.
   Shelton's dialogue sparkles as they bicker and bond and bicker some more. They rescue a stranded Lucy Liu ("Payback") from a man with a seriously overheated $120,000 sports car. "But what about our sexy trip to Sin City?" he wails at spinning wheels and a cloud of dust.
   Then there is the fight. It is very bloody and savage, with color and multichannel sound exceeding even the benchmark "Raging Bull," and it seems to go on forever. But it is the heart of the story as the two punch their way to redemption, only to be suckered out of much of their purse by the organizers.
   The casting is brilliant. Robert Wagner as the supercilious Vegas hotel owner and Tom Sizemore ("Bringing Out the Dead") as the demented, foul-mouthed promoter are standouts. Real boxing people are used as atmosphere, and celebrities (Kevin Costner, James Woods, Tony Curtis and many more) are added for window dressing. Rod Stewart winds up as Lucy Liu's date, only to be relieved of his wallet.
   The title, by the way, refers to doing things flat-out, all the way. Which is exactly what Shelton does with his latest look at the wide, and sometime wacky, world of sports. Starring Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas and Lolita Davidovich. Directed and written by Ron Shelton. Produced by Stephen Chin. A Buena Vista release. Drama/comedy. Rated R for brutal ring violence, strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, pervasive language and some drug content. Running time: 123 min
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