3 1/2 StarsAs with Stallone in Rocky, an immensely watchable screen persona is born in Alvaro Orlando star of the boxing drama Counterpunch. Based on the true story of Orlando’s own upbringing and struggles with foes in the ring and mental health issues outside. This very enjoyable and well-directed story is anchored by the quirky performance from the relatively obscure young lead.
Typically boxing movies are either biographies or vanity projects from actors only too willing to showcase their physique and machismo screen presence in order to gain acceptance from the action community. Audiences have become keen to realize that these films are not merit based and simply exist as fodder for the likes of late-night cable programming. Counterpunch is neither.
Emilio is a wayward youth spending his days pulling scams on tourists to the Miami area, and getting high with his drop-out friends. His mother is an addict stuck in an abusive relationship and too strung out to remember to do simple things, like pay the water bill or get groceries. So, young Emilio is forced to share canned dog food with his puppy, the aptly named Mr. T. One night in a domestic disturbance Emilio stabs his mother’s drunken boyfriend and is taken into youth custody for second degree assault with a deadly weapon. The courts release the child into the protective care of his beloved grandma and his tough love Uncle Frank (a superb, Oscar Torre) a former boxer turned coach.
Eight years later, Emilio (Alvardo Orlando) has sprouted into one of the top boxing prospects in the area. However, the local promoters including Benjamin Portillo (Danny Pardo, who resembles a 1980’s Armand Assante) are weary of taking on the kid because of his spotty criminal record and rumored mental breakdowns. Emilio’s relationship with Benjamin’s daughter is the boy’s saving grace, as Talia Portillo (Camila Banus) strikes out on her own forming a new promotional company that will serve as a showcase for Emilio to enter the Golden Gloves competition.
Counterpunch has the look and feel of a sports movie, complete with an Ivan Drago like opponent, but it has the heart of a serious drama. The filmmakers obviously have love for the Rocky series,looking for the references could be a drinking game, i.e. a character named Talia, Mr. T the dog, the Drago look-alike etc. This is a far darker themed film than anything in the Italian Stallion’s saga.
Some may argue that the topics of suicide and bipolar-ism are not accurately portrayed. That may be true, but the fact that those are even mentioned in a movie whose cover-art suggest a fight-movie is encouraging. Counterpunch may not be a knockout artist but it’s all heart, and heralds the arrival of director Kenneth Castillo and stars Alvaro Orlando and Camila Banus.
Director: Kenneth Castillo
Stars: Danny Trejo, Steven Bauer, Alvaro Orlando