The character of boxer Rocky Balboa is one of the most famous heroes in cinema history, but not many people are familiar with the real fighter who inspired the lucrative Rocky franchise that still lives on today with Creed. Directed by Philippe Falardeau and starring Liev Schreiber, Chuck chronicles the life of small time New Jersey boxer Chuck Wepner nicknamed “The Bayonne Bleeder”. Chuck is not considered a top talent, but gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he is selected to fight Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali hot off his win against George Foreman in “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Chuck’s performance in the fight gains him cult hero status in Jersey and catches the eye of an actor and writer named Sylvester Stallone.
There are definitely some similarities between Chuck and his fictional counterpart “The Italian Stallion”. Wepner gained fame giving the reigning flamboyant Champion everything he had in a fight he was supposed to get destroyed in. He even fought Andre the Giant which was very similar to Balboa’s fight with Thunderlips AKA Hulk Hogan. That is where the similarities stop though for Wepner and Rocky. Chuck is unfaithful to his wife, loves the cocaine and is from New Jersey instead of Philadelphia. In Rocky we loved the see the champ rise above mediocrity, but in Chuck you are intrigued by pugilist drowning in his new-found celebrity set during the Swinging Seventies full of bad wardrobes and disco. Chuck follows the same beats and themes from many previous boxing films, which isn’t a bad thing and makes sense considering Wepner’s life most likely inspired a generation of fighting themed movies that came before it.
Liev Schreiber brings a sleazy charm to Chuck with the film focusing on the D-list celebrity lifestyle and the wild times that happen during their 15 minutes of fame. Wepner actually gets two different and entertaining moments in the film that gains him a certain sense of fame in his own mind. One being surviving a beating from Ali and two getting a film based on his life that ends up winning Best Picture. Those two events are fun to see unfold, but the film rises above its content when Schreiber knocks the fighter down to the mat due to women, booze, drugs and a bloated ego that gets him nowhere in life. Liev Schreiber truly makes Chuck better than it should be by bringing this lovable loser to life. The rest of the cast including Ron Pearlman as his ball busting trainer Al Braverman, Elizabeth Moss as his very forgiving wife Phyllis and a surprising turn by Jim Gaffigan as Wepner’s long time friend John do solid work in Chuck, but make no mistake Liev Schreiber’s carries the weight of this weak script through more rounds than he should and grabs the spotlight of the audience in doing so.
Chuck is full of boxing movie clichés including rising above expectations and losing everything due to one’s vanity. The plot is nothing we haven’t seen before in other boxing films considering Wepner’s real life actions probably unknowingly inspired those other works. When it comes to boxing movies, pretty much all aspects for our cinema prizefighters have been explored on the big screen so don’t expect a fresh experience when it comes to Chuck. The work is very similar to other films including Southpaw, Raging Bull and the series it inspired Rocky. Chuck may seem like familiar territory, but the tailspin by our fighter keeps your attention thanks to the solid acting from Liev Schreiber.
Overall, I give Chuck 3 out of 4 stars.
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