‘Chuck’ not a knockout, but goes the distance

by Joe Jarosz on May 27, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

 [Rating: Solid Rock Fist Up]

You don’t know me, but you know me. You don’t know you know me.”

For years, I thought Rocky was about the fighter Rocky Marciano. I hope I’m not the only one who was this ignorant.

In actuality, Rocky Balboa took its inspiration from Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), a liquor salesman, father, and prizefighter whose career changed forever in 1975 when he went 15 rounds with The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. But with any sports tale, when you reach the top, there’s only one way down. After that fight, Chuck — also begrudgingly known as the Bayonne Bleeder — turned to drugs, crime, and was left by his wife Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss). To give you an idea of what kinda of man Chuck was, he was a sleazebag before becoming famous, once bragging he knew the man who invented the wet t-shirt contest. But fame, it amplified his personality tenfold.

Schreiber narrates the story as we’re watching it, as if Chuck is watching his own life and analyzing it as it goes along. Remember The Simpsons episode where Moe manages Homer’s boxing career and he only does well because he can take a punch. Well, that’s how Chuck describes his career. He says he was best known to take a punch then fight when he needed to. That was how he lasted so long with Ali, he was able to take his punches. He even knocked Ali down at one point, something nobody expected him to do. Heck, he wasn’t even supposed to last three rounds.

Chuck was able to build a little bit of hometown fame off of that fight. But the story goes that Stallone (played by Morgan Spector) saw that fight and immediately went home and wrote Rocky. A year and a half later, Chuck is riding the wave of Rocky’s success, imagining he’s living the golden life but just accelerating that downward slope he’s on with booze, drugs, and loose women who ruin his marriage.

Remember Christian Bale’s character from The Fighter, Dicky Eklund? Well imagine an entire movie based around someone like that. Chuck is a respectable tale of resilience, redemption, and owning up to your mistakes. I’ve never gotten the sense that Schreiber takes a role for money. He carefully chooses his projects and the dedication he put into crafting Chuck Wepner shows, with my only complaint being his New Jersey accent was a little too heavy at times to understand what he was saying.

The cast is rounded out by Naomi WattsRon PerlmanJim Gaffigan and Michael Rapaport. All do an amazing job, Perlman is great as Chuck’s version of Mickey, but Watts is a chameleon as Linda the bartender. Unrecognizable in the dark bar light, I didn’t even know Watts was in this movie until the credits rolled.

The film is entertaining and certainly an eye opener for me in regards to Rocky‘s origin, but when I’m with my friends and the conversation of best sports movies comes up, Chuck will never be mentioned in the same breath as the movie he inspired. That’s a battle he’ll never able to win.

Chuck is playing at the Barrywoods 24, Town Center 20, Studio 28 and the Glenwood Arts. Check your local theaters for movie times.

Joe Jarosz is a Midwest boy now living in California.

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