I have always been a fan of Sonny Liston. He retired from boxing with a career record of 50-4, 39 KO’s, and was, at one time, the most feared man in the entire world. Before Mike Tyson, before George Foreman, there was Liston, a monster puncher with a criminal past, plowing through his opposition with ease.
Liston won the heavyweight title in 1962 with a first round stoppage of Floyd Patterson and would repeat the feat less than a year later. He was considered unbeatable and was an 8-1 favorite to defeat Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), and would lose via 7th round stoppage. He would have a rematch and lose in the first round when a “phantom punch” landed and the fight was prematurely stopped. The fans cried fix and it is still a mystery as to what happened that night. Equally mysterious was his suspicious death.
The Sonny Liston story is a very interesting one and although there were books telling his story, it was never done well, but a movie called PHANTOM PUNCH throws its hat into the ring, attempting to show the viewer the life of Liston.
Written by Ryan Combs and Directed by Robert Townsend (AKA: Meteor Man), PHANTOM PUNCH begins with Liston in prison, where he finds boxing. He quickly becomes the boxing world champion behind bars and his mentor, a Priest, Father Alios (Rick Roberts) sees a bright future for his friend. He brings Liston over to Ceasar (Nicholas Turturro), a mobster, to guide the career of Liston.
Liston, played by Ving Rhames, becomes very successful in boxing, but is continually harassed by the police and is in constant trouble with the law. He is hated by the public, owned by the mob, and illiterate. Rhames plays the role very well, but I have noticed that he has a couple of weaknesses. One, when he screams, he comes off as silly. It’s not convincing, and the other is when he cries…not convincing. Other than that, Rhames is a great actor. He did well here and was great as Don King in that HBO flick “ONLY IN AMERICA.” He was the right guy to play Liston without question.
Farah (Bridgette Wilson) is a prostitute turned lounge singer and girlfriend of Ceasar, but she soon develops a thing for Sonny. She wants his stiff jab. They begin to carry on a relationship behind his friend’s back and it soon becomes ugly when Geraldine Liston (Stacey Dash) finds out. When Ceasar finds out, it gets deadly.
The good heavily outweigh the bad with this movie. Combs did a great job writing this. It’s very compelling stuff, especially when Alios talks to Sonny about his accomplishments and shutting out the people and their insults. I wasn’t a big fan of the look of the movie. It looked sort of blurry at times …whatever filter they used, it just didn’t work. The performances were spot on and the movie flowed very well. It was really enjoyable.
I want to say that it was nice to see Bridgette Wilson back. I remember her from BILLY MADISON and she has aged well. Lots of hot chicks turn into pigs through the course of time, but not this one. She gave a great performance and hopefully this will bring her back into the swing of things, but considering the movie’s lack of a buzz, it’s doubtful.
Meteor Man did a good job directing this one, with the exception of that Rhames’ scream. I know I’m harping on this, but Meteor Man must’ve been sleeping on the job when he let out that yell. Then again, maybe it’s just my idea of what yelling should be. I thought Mickey Rourke’s yell in IRON MAN 2 was absurd. Perhaps it’s me. Maybe they both yell very well.
PHANTOM PUNCH is a good watch. It’s not a great movie or a great depiction of Sonny Liston from a boxing standpoint, but it does present some compelling dialogue and attempts to give you a window into what it was like for a black man in the early 1960s that achieved greatness and what they got in return from the police and public. This movie’s not a knockout, but it’s at least a majority decision win. I recommend it.
RSR Rating: 6.5/10.