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TV REVIEWS : 'Percy & Thunder' Lacks Originality

THE NEW SEASON. One of a series.

September 07, 1993|RAY LOYND

James Earl Jones' crusty prize-fight manager and Billy Dee Williams' greedy boxing promoter throw some potent left-right combinations as rival ringside operators in "Percy & Thunder" (at 5, 7 and 9 p.m. today on the TNT cable channel).

Oddly enough, TV movies have a slim track record when it comes to boxing stories. Only once has television really distinguished itself with an original drama about the fight game: Rod Serling's great teleplay "Requiem for a Heavyweight."

Art Washington's script for "Percy & Thunder" is not in that league. On its most superficial level, it's a formula tale about an aging manager and his gifted young fighter (Jones and Courtney B. Vance), who leave the sticks for the big city only to encounter corruption and "weasels" in big-money boxing's viper's nest of influence and exploitation.

"Weasels," in fact, is the script's favorite word, applied to the sport's manipulators--notably Williams' Stetson-crowned, silken boxing don who jabs a finger at Thunder in one hyperactive scene and gloats, "You'll never fight again. I own the middleweight division." Stock boxing-movie elements prevail elsewhere.

Director Ivan Dixon, drawing from an essentially all-black cast, lines the movie with warmth and humor, including South African actor Zakes Mokae as Pee Wee, the caretaker of the musty gym where our hero works out. Adding to the ethnic flavor are textured performances from a garrulous quartet of hangers-on (Antonio Fargas, Tony Cox, Fats Williams and James Tillis), who reappear throughout the production like a babbling Greek chorus.

The sharp dialogue is flecked with the patois of urban blacks and, on occasion, the wisdom of a weathered ringmaster: As Jones' manager tells his anxious young contender before his championship bout: "No matter what games the weasels play outside the ring, what happens inside is pure--that's your edge."

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