Phantom Punch (2010) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

The life and death of enigmatic Former Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston is explored in director Robert Townsend’s heartfelt but misguided new film. Ving Rhames plays Liston as a thug with a punch and a serious dislike of authority figures. His performance comes off as one-note and dull due to the fact that the overly simplified screenplay doesn’t give the title character much dimension.

The film starts in 1950 with the future champion locked away in a jail cell, until he discovers boxing from the priest who also serves as the center’s athletic director. In a paint by the numbers screenplay, we follow Liston from his rise to champ through his historic loss to a young Cassius Clay and then his eventual death from a suspicious heroin overdose. Townsend does all he can on an obviously very limited budget, his film is richly detailed as cast effectively. However despite this, the whole production has a made-for-T.V. vibe it just can’t shake. Robbing the story of the impact it might have produced, if it had been given the big screen treatment that ALI benefited from. A well intentioned film that is ultimately undone by it’s conventional and cheap approach. Liston and Rhames deserve better.

Director: Robert Townsend
Stars: Ving Rhames, Stacey Dash, Nicholas Turturro

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