05/01/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
HBO (Sat., April 29, 8 p.m. ET)
Give HBO credit for good timing in scheduling this bio-flick of boxer Mike Tyson barely a month after his release from prison, when there is renewed interest in the embattled heavyweight. Unfortunately, it's a plodding, foul-mouthed, pug-ugly portrait—a palooka-ish tribute to a champion.
Kristen Wilson plays Robin Givens, the actress with whom Tyson had a strange, stormy marriage. Paul Win-field is Don King, the controversial boxing promoter. Referee Mills Lane and commentator Larry Merchant have cameos as themselves. And George C. Scott plays Cus D'Amato, the aging trainer who became Tyson's mentor and legal guardian, the grumbling Yoda to Tyson's steely-eyed Jedi assassin.
The problem is that the script never maps out Tyson's mental landscape. We see the rivers of rage but never the wellspring. Several notorious incidents are elaborately re-created, such as Barbara Walters' televised interview with Mike and Robin and the evening in Indianapolis that leads up to Tyson's conviction for rape, but the scenes lack any context that might help us understand these events better.
The project's primary asset is Michael Jai White in the title role. He does a wonderful job of capturing Tyson's physicality—the baleful expression, the crackling air of menace—topped off with that improbable Tweety voice.
The fight scenes are powerful as Tyson wades through the heavyweight ranks, notching up a string of spectacular knockouts. It's outside the ring that this film develops troubles and starts to lose its focus. Sort of like the champ himself.