Big George Foreman Review: This Faith-Based Biopic Punches Down at Both Boxing and God

Big George Foreman Review: This Faith-Based Biopic Punches Down at Both Boxing and God

Few genres in Hollywood history have enjoyed as much staying power as the boxing movie — and it’s not hard to understand why. In addition to satisfying our primal urge to watch large men beat the tar out of each other, they come with a built-in dramatic structure that’s almost impossible to screw up. You set up a feud between two fighters, put the good guy through unimaginable amounts of adversity as he trains, then let it all culminate in a big match that serves as a metaphor for the protagonist’s internal conflict. No matter how admirable you found Barton Fink’s principled refusal to write wrestling movies, Jack Lipnick was on to something when he told him “there’s plenty of poetry right inside that ring.”

So it’s almost impressive that “Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World” is so dull.  (And yes, that’s the actual title. All 16 words of it.) George Foreman’s storied boxing career — which saw him win the world heavyweight championship at the age of 24 before retiring to become a preacher and returning to win it again at 45 — is one of the most incredible stories in sports history. We were long overdue for a great George Foreman movie. His life literally took the form of the three-act structure that screenwriters rely on, so he did the hard part for them!

Yet this sad biopic from director George Tillman Jr., which tries to reframe Foreman’s life as a faith-based tale of Christians triumphing over the infidels, sucks the life out of that story. The actual arc of the boxer’s career remains fascinating, but a meandering plot filled with heavy-handed metaphors and stale fight scenes renders it damn near unwatchable. “Big George Foreman” is to Foreman’s life as a countertop George Foreman Grill is to a Weber.

When we first meet George Foreman (Khris Davis), he’s a troubled teen who spent his entire childhood being bullied over his family’s poverty. His desire to earn money and help his mother is sincere, but his anger issues prevent him from holding anything resembling meaningful employment. But when local boxing trainer Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker) sees him in a street fight, he determines that the young man is “big and ugly enough” to make it as a boxer. He takes him under his wing and starts showing him the ropes of the sport — though he makes it clear that George needs to leave his aggression in the ring and behave himself outside the gym.

Foreman progresses at a rapid pace, though we’re never really given a chance to see what makes him so good. A particularly groan-inducing scene sees Doc telling him that he could train harder than anyone has ever trained before and he still wouldn’t make the next Olympics — only to cut directly to him winning a gold medal the following year. It isn’t long before he defeats Joe Frazer for the heavyweight title and has everything he’s ever wanted — fame, fortune, and an increasingly hedonistic lifestyle that his religious mother (Sonja Sohn) disapproves of.

But all good things must come to an end, and Foreman soon loses his title to Muhammad Ali (Sullivan Jones) when he falls victim to Ali’s now-iconic rope-a-dope strategy. Jones’ small role as Ali depicts the boxing legend as nothing more than an antagonistic bully whose eye is always on his next paycheck. It’s an interesting choice for a faith-based movie to portray perhaps the most famously religious athlete of the 20th century — the man who changed his name to reflect his deep Muslim faith — as a secular villain for its God-fearing protagonist to spar against.

Shortly after dropping the belt, George has a religious epiphany. He collapses in the locker room and — as he tells it — briefly dies, only to be saved by a last-minute intervention from Jesus Christ. The entire thing is portrayed through a black screen, so who’s to say he’s wrong? The experience is so profoundly moving that he decides to give up fighting and devote himself to preaching the word of God. After divorcing his secular wife and marrying a nice church girl (Jasmine Matthews), he begins giving weekly Sunday sermons and builds a community center in his Houston neighborhood to keep kids off the streets.

Everything is just dandy until he finds that his finances have been depleted by his charitable endeavors and a shady financial manager. Other than a grill endorsement deal that nobody thinks will amount to anything, the boxing legend is left with no money and no way to earn it. Despite being 20 years older (and considerably heavier) than his championship self, he decides to return to the ring and pursue the heavyweight belt again in an attempt to pay his bills. His wife opposes the idea at first, but quickly comes around to it when she sees it as an opportunity for Foreman to preach on the world’s biggest stage.

Foreman’s road to redemption — his hat-in-hand reunion with Doc, the fitness regimen that sees him lose 50 pounds, his gradual climb from minor exhibition fights back into title matches — has all the makings of an incredible movie. But with the end of the film’s two hour and eight minute running time rapidly approaching, Tillman takes every opportunity to neuter the story. A brief training montage, a joke about Foreman being forced to eat oatmeal when he’d prefer pancakes, and an even briefer title fight is pretty much all we get. There’s not even room to explain what God’s role in the whole process was. The rushed ending ensures that what was already a bad boxing movie gets to double as a bad Christian movie.

As human society settles into the era of AI and deepfakes, celebrities have begun to sue companies for using their likenesses without asking permission. The law is clear: you cannot claim that someone is endorsing a product if they haven’t actually done so. After watching “Big George Foreman” it’s fair to wonder whether that precedent should be extended to God, too. There’s no way that the divinity who created our planet, whose transcendent beauty moved Bob Dylan to write “Every Grain of Sand,” is happy about having His or Her name attached to this.

Grade: D+

Sony Pictures will release “Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World” in theaters on Friday, April 28. 

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