The Great White Hype (1996) – Review

3 Stars

The Great White Hype is an often hilarious comedy about the racial warfare that lies underneath the surface of professional pugilism. Scripted by Ron Shelton (a self-proclaimed boxing fanatic) and directed with a deft touch for tone and casting by Reginald Hudlin, The Great White Hype serves as both a very funny comedy and a glimpse of the realities of the sport circa the Don King era of prizefighting.

James ‘The Grim Reaper’ Roper (Damon Wayans) is the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He carries an unblemished record (38-0, 38-KO) and is so dominate that general audiences have turned their back on watching or attending his bouts. That’s until his promoter the Rev. Fred Sultan (Samuel L. Jackson) discovers a new angle to sell the champ’s next fight. He’ll find Terry Conklin (Peter Berg) the only man to beat Roper from his amateur days. The fact that Conkiln is a white punk rocker singer from Cleveland, who’s long retired from his fighting days doesn’t seem to deter the promoter from signing the kid and starting a massive media campaign.

The title refers to the underlying nationalism, and racism that has defied prizefighting since its inception. The film satirizes the absurdities of the sport, its promoters, the sanctioning bodies, and the marketing of big-time PPV Main-Events. A cornucopia of comedic talent makes the most of their screen-time, Jamie Foxx and Damon Wayans provide the picture with its biggest laughs. Jeff Goldblum and Samuel L. Jackson are amusing but their dramatic line reading overtake any humor on the page. The Great White Hype is the funniest, and one of the most knowledgable films ever produced about the sport. It remains a mainstay on my list of the top ten boxing movie of all-time.

Director: Reginald Hudlin
Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg

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