Muhammad Ali's mouth creases in a patriarchal smile. Joe Frazier--in gold chain and open white shirt--glares, shifts restlessly in his seat. Ken Norton speaks raspily, peeks up from under a Gold's Gym cap. George Foreman, looking like a kindly uncle, oozes tolerance. Off in the corner, Larry Holmes stays quiet, like a cocky kid who doesn't want center stage.
These are the champs of "Champions Forever" (at the AMC Century 14), an engaging documentary that brings together the five world heavyweight boxing kings whose reigns overlapped from 1964 to 1985. Seated in lounge chairs in Johnny Tocco's Las Vegas Gymnasium, interviewed by a studious-looking Reggie Jackson while clips of their triumphs run by, the fearsome fivesome relax into a session of reminiscence and (one of Howard Cosell's words) badinage.
Their postures are friendly. Free of the pressures of combat, they emerge as an unlikely mutual admiration society: old warriors respectful of each other's skills and guts, united in memories of glories now past, battles now over.
Initially, director Dimitri Logothetis' film, transferred from video and Times-rated Family, seems headed toward over-reverence. Heavenly choirs intone as Holmes, in slow motion, moves toward a final rendezvous with Mike Tyson: the end, we are reminded, of an era. More specifically, the end of the era of Ali, the most charismatic sports figure of the TV generation. Three of the men sitting here defeated him in the ring at least once. One of them, Foreman, lost, and, perhaps wisely, was never granted a rematch.