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A down-for the-count 'Strength and Honor'

December 07, 2007|Sid Smith | Chicago Tribune

"Strength and Honor" is a boxing movie both relentlessly dismal and dismally predictable -- "Rocky Goes to Ireland," with a side trip past "Million Dollar Baby."

In an opening set seven years in the past, a young boxer, Sean (Michael Madsen), kills a friend during practice with a freakishly fatal punch. Flash forward to present-day Cork, and his young wife is dying of a hereditary heart disorder, though not before signing an insurance policy that will later be nullified by her preexisting condition.

Sean is thus widowed and broke, father of a young son, who soon shows signs of his mother's illness. Only a rare and expensive American operation will save the boy. Sean must drop his moral reserve and enter a bare-knuckle contest run as an underground enterprise to earn money for the surgery.

What in the world was screenwriter Mark Mahon thinking when he concocted this hokum? The set-up is sappy, the morals contradictory and the story trite.

As a first-time director as well, Mahon isn't much better. There's the usual lyrical imagery of Irish scenery, dressed with melodic pop tunes and Gaelic strains, set in opposition to the familiar bluster, clannish hatred and primitivism of a culture chafed raw by poverty.

The acting is acceptable, Madsen restrained and almost sweet, thus cast against type, while Vinnie Jones' snarling mongrel of a villain -- the aptly named Smasher and the current boxing champ Sean must unseat -- is loud and feral. But what's Richard Chamberlain doing here woefully miscast as a crusty old trainer?

"Strength and Honor" boasts a spare, quiet style jarringly interrupted by violence, and that interplay proves Mahon's sturdiest achievement. But it's a movie full of cliches. Nobody, the audience included, comes out a winner.

"Strength and Honor." MPAA rating: R for some violence. Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. In limited release.

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