Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Play It to the Bone (1999)
Studio Line: Touchstone Pictures - No one hits as hard as your best friend.

Hollywood heavyweights Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas bring real comedic punch to this hilarious, action-packed hit! Best buddies and sparring partners, Vince (Harrelson) and Cesar (Banderas) are a pair of worn-out, over-the-hill prizefighters who jump at one last, unexpected chance to work in the big time. They just have to be in Las Vegas now! So before they know what's hit them they're on the road! But when they step into the ring that night, friendship is replaced by fierce competition as Vince and Cesar tangle in a dramatic fight to the finish -- where only the winner will earn a shot at the title! With sexy Lolita Liu (TV's Ally McBeal) along to liven up the ride, you won't want to miss any of the knockout entertainment that powers this whirlwind comedy adventure!

Director: Ron Shelton
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich, Tom Sizemore, Lucy Alexis Liu, Robert Wagner
Academy Awards: None
Box Office: Budget: $24 million. Opening Weekend: $3.43 million. Gross: $8.48 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - dual layer; 25 chapters; rated R; 125 min.; $32.99, street date 6/13/00.
Supplements: Production Featurette; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/D-

How can a movie about boxing be so... chatty? The most visceral and physical of sports essentially becomes a two-hour gabfest in Play It to the Bone, a flat and overly-long attempt by director/writer Ron Shelton to do for boxing what he did for minor league baseball in Bull Durham.

The major differences between the two are that BD was a) funny, b) clever, c) populated by interesting and rich characters, and d) told in a coherent manner that allowed the characters to grow and develop. None of those are true for PITTB, which failed to interest me at any moment in the film.

PITTB tells the story of Vince (Woody Harrelson) and Cesar (Antonio Banderas), two aging boxers whose shots at the big time are way behind them. Or are they? Some misfortune causes an undercard bout on a Las Vegas Mike Tyson bill to open, and in a desperation move, the promoters offer the slot to these former semi-famous fighters.

The twist? Cesar and Vince are buddies, and both share affection for Cesar's current girlfriend - and Vince's ex - Grace (Lolita Davidovich). For reasons that seem unapparent the three head to Vegas from Los Angeles by car, and even then make the reasonably brief trip extend much too long by taking the scenic route. (Grace wants to see the "striations".)

That's what we call an "artificial plot device", kiddies, and it should indicate the clumsy craftsmanship on display in PITTB. Virtually the entire story seems contrived to lead us to the "killer" fight scene that will inevitably provide the film's climax, but two problems occur. For one, the lead-up to the fight takes forever, and virtually all of it is devoted to very banal and uncompelling dialogue scenes, most of which occur in the car during the drive. The characters never develop any real personality or give us any reason to find them of interest, and the dialogue seems bland and lacks wit.

The other problem stems from the fact that the climactic bout itself is honestly quite dull. Shelton's sole innovation is to provide a few shots that demonstrate the disoriented points of view of the boxers during breaks between rounds, but the fighting itself seemed like so much pounding of the meat without any coherent development. Vince kicks some ass, then Cesar takes charge, and then Vince whips some tail, then Cesar goes to town... and so on, and so on.

It doesn't help that we have no particular rooting interest in the fight. Sporting events - whether real or staged in a movie - are much more compelling when you want one side to emerge victorious; if you don't care either way, you can derive some intellectual pleasure from a contest well waged, but you probably won't find the event to be memorable or particularly thrilling. PITTB isn't Rocky, in which we clearly empathize with one party over the other; I couldn't have cared less whether Cesar or Vince won, and that made the ending distinctly anti-climactic.

A review of Shelton's resume shows that he works on an "every other" basis: every other film of his is good. Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump, Tin Cup equal "good", while Blaze, Cobb and PITTB equal "bad". Then again, maybe it's not his fault. Lolita Davidovich has appeared in three of Shelton's films, and if you guessed that they are the last three I've listed, you win a big fat nothing, since that premise seemed pretty clear. Davidovich and Shelton are a couple, and maybe it's the presence of the old lady on the set that saps Shelton's talent - who knows? All I know is that he'd better keep her away from the camera if he wants to make another good movie.

If the "every other" rule holds true, Davidovich will stay out of the cast and it'll be a good picture. None of that helps the bomb that is Play It to the Bone, however. The movie doesn't completely lack charm, but it seems pretty flat and unfunny, and even with a couple of decent performers like Harrelson and Banderas, no personality ever rises to the surface. It got so bad that the most fun I had during the movie was checking out the celebrity cameos during the fight scene. Okay, I'll admit it - I loved the sexy card girls as well, especially when we see them from Vince's point of view. However, some fun cameos and some big breasts don't quite make up for the other two hours, and PITTB doesn't get the job done where it counts.

The DVD:

Play It to the Bone appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not completely flawless, this DVD presents a picture that comes close; this sucker looks absolutely terrific.

Sharpness seems precise and clearly-defined from start to finish; I detected no signs of softness at any point in the movie. Moiré effects are absent, though I witnessed a few light jagged edges. I also saw some infrequent artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. These remained almost completely isolated to either the opening shots of the Las Vegas skyline and any wide views of the car tooling down the highway; neither instance is a surprise since roads and buildings are some of the most common objects that react poorly to the downconversion.

The print itself appeared perfectly clean; I detected no grain, speckles, dirt, grit, scratches, nicks or hairs. Colors seem wonderfully bright and bold and they lack any signs of oversaturation or noise. Black levels are terrifically deep and rich, and shadow detail looked appropriately dense but not overly opaque. All in all, PITTB provides an absolutely fantastic visual experience.

And the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack isn't far behind the picture. The soundfield isn't the broadest you'll hear but it seems appropriate for the material. The forward channels present the most active information, but the surrounds also give us a strong feeling of atmosphere. It's not a film with a lot of distinctly discrete information that emanates from the various channels, but it seems well-rounded and encompassing.

The soundfield itself is decent, but the quality of the audio is what really shines. Dialogue always appears natural and clear, with warm tones, and the effects are clean and realistic; actually, some of the punches are exaggerated for effect, but the tone remains strong. The music is the star of the show, as the songs come across as bright and vivid. The entire track boasts some wonderfully deep bass, and it helps make the movie more interesting that it would otherwise seem.

Though the DVD offers excellent picture and sound, the supplements are a disappointment. All we find here is the theatrical trailer plus a two-minute and 50-second production featurette. The latter definitely meets the criteria to be named a "glorified trailer". It features a few neat shots from the set, but other than that, it's just film clips and superficial interview snippets. Geez, the folks who produced it couldn't even spell Lucy Liu's last name correctly! That's just sad.

Play It to the Bone itself doesn't represent such a degeneration in the talents of Ron Shelton that I'd call it "sad", but it seems pretty disappointing. None of that earlier film's spark or wit are evident here, as the entire movie is a talky bore. The DVD offers absolutely terrific picture and sound, although it really skimps on extras. Ultimately, I can't recommend this film to anyone; even - or maybe especially - fans of Shelton's other movies will likely not enjoy it, and I don't see much of interest for other audiences either.

Final footnote: as with virtually every other recent DVD from Buena Vista, Touchstone's parent company, PITTB includes some advertisements prior to the start of the feature. In this case, we find two: The 13th Warrior and Happy Texas. I don't particularly mind these, as I can skip them easily on my Panasonic 120, but apparently others have more trouble with them and their presence on DVDs has annoyed quite a few people. Just wanted to issue my standard warning that they're here as well...

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