And that brings us to the whole Ron Howard problem. He has been involved in a whopping seven movies that were cool ideas but left me feeling they should have been better "Backdraft," "Parenthood," "The Paper," "Apollo 13" (I thought this was long and pretentious), "Ransom," "The Missing," and "EdTV" (a really funny idea that should have worked). But since he has a résumé of 80's comedies ("Night Shift," "Cocoon," "Splash" and "Gung Ho"), as well as an Oscar-winning masterpiece ("A Beautiful Mind"), he's one of those rare directors whose name can help sell a movie. Personally, I think he's a hit-or-miss director who picks his projects better than just about anyone. But what do I know? I'm a sports columnist.
Still, there's one thing I do know: Sports movies. And you can't screw up the sports scenes in a sports movie. You just can't. It's like screwing up the sex scenes in a porn movie, or screwing up the romantic scenes in a chick flick. But since Howard has reached such an exalted status, there probably isn't one person in his life who could have stood up to him and said, "Yo, those sports scenes are crummy, you need to fix them."
Hence, an opportunity lost. Think about it. Howard had the following elements in place for a quality sports movie:
1. The perfect story
Rising boxing star Braddock gets sidetracked by the Great Depression, goes completely broke, has to grovel just to feed his family, gets one last chance at a comeback bout with 24 hours' notice ... then turns his career around (inspired by his second chance), becomes a hero to the masses and eventually captures the heavyweight title. And by the way, this actually happened.
2. The perfect background
What's more riveting from a dramatic standpoint than the Great Depression? In fact, they would make more movies about the Depression if it weren't so freaking depressing.
3. The perfect sport
There's a reason Hollywood has made a kajillion boxing movies. You never see a movie about an aging champ trying to hold onto his title it's always some underdog rising from obscurity and becoming a better person in the process, and there's always a trainer with a lively personality, and there's always a love interest who thinks he shouldn't keep boxing, and everything leads to the final heroic fight against the Big Bad Villain. It's a formula, but it works. And now that we've had a Depression boxing movie, the only possible settings that Hollywood hasn't tapped yet are a Nazi war camp and the Special Olympics (and those are probably on the horizon).
4. The perfect lead
That's Crowe, probably the best living actor right now. When he adopts an accent (like Braddock's Jersey accent), you never have to worry about a Costner-like debacle. When he throws himself into an action movie (like in "Gladiator"), you feel like he's really fighting. When he alters his appearance and plays a character (like in "The Insider"), you immediately forget it's him. When he's mailing it in for a paycheck (like with "Mystery, Alaska"), he leaves you with no doubt whatsoever. And so on. In this movie, I would give him the "He's never been better" tag, but I can't imagine topping "Gladiator." He's nearly as good. It's close. Crowe alone makes the movie worth seeing like with the scene where he shows up at his old boxing haunt to panhandle money. Devastating scene. There might be actors as good as Russell Crowe, but nobody is better than him. He's the Tim Duncan of Hollywood. You're always in good hands.