Play it to the Bone - 1/2*

It’s a boxing movie. It’s a road comedy. It’s a love triangle. It’s an utter disaster. It’s Play it to the Bone.

Cesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas) and Vince Boudreau (Woody Harrelson) are best friends, two has-been boxers well past their prime. Each had a chance at greatness, but failed at the crucial moment. Those failures have haunted them to the present day.

So, when Joe Domino (Tom Sizemore) calls, the pair quickly agree to a match. You see, both boxers in the undercard to Mike Tyson’s Vegas fight have suddenly become unavailable the day of their bout, and Domino is desperate. Cesar and Vince agree to fight each other that evening in Vegas, on the condition that the winner gets a shot at the title.

But the two friends, now rivals, have a problem. They don’t have the money for a plane ticket to Las Vegas, and are too stupid to request one from Joe. Enter Grace (Lolita Davidovich), ex-girlfriend to both Vince and Cesar. She is available to help, and, more importantly, owns a car (and a convertible to boot). So, quicker than you can say “road trip”, the trio are away on a journey that seems to last a lifetime.

It’s too bad that no one in the car is even a slight bit interesting, whatsoever. Vince and Cesar are each given a quick token personality quirk: Vince has “found Jesus”, and sees him now and then. Cesar was gay for a year…but only a year. Beyond that, there’s little we know about these two, and less that we want to. Even Grace, a potentially sympathetic character, is rendered worthless by the mere fact that she chooses to hang around with these utter losers.

The boxing scenes are the best things in the movie, but they are also rather problematic. First of all, the tone of the fights, which are rather stark and violent, clashes mightily with that of the rest of the film, which has been trying to be a lighthearted (and lightwitted) comedy. If the film worked, it would be difficult to watch these two characters we theoretically have come to know and love beat each other to a pulp. Nor do they inspire enough hate to make watching a gruelling boxing duel a fountain of joy. As the audience, we simply hope for a quick knockout.

And then, for some odd reason, Cesar and Vince both start having visions in the ring. Vince sees Jesus and several naked women…Cesar sees naked men. Whether this is intended as comic relief, or some sort of insight into their characters, it doesn’t work. The scenes are distracting and pointless.

Director Ron Shelton (of Bull Durham and Tin Cup fame) has delivered several good sports movies in his career. This is not one of them.

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