Single page view By Skip Bayless
Page 2

Allow me to disqualify myself the way Hilary Swank's final foe would have been disqualified in "Million Problem Baby."

At least, that's what I've renamed it.

But understand, I'm a frustrated movie critic. Only a Barry Bonds media session can frustrate me more than a movie that insults my intelligence while turning into a box-office smash or -- worse -- an Academy Award bandwagon. I get especially infuriated if the movie pretends to capture the inside essence of something I know a little about -- sports.

That's why I vow never to watch my favorite show of the year, Sunday night's Academy Awards, again if Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" wins Best Picture or Best Director or turns into this year's "Lord of the Rings" with an endless parade of acceptance speeches.

If "Baby" wins by knockout, I'm throwing in the towel.

The day it opened, I didn't rush out to see it. I'd caught the trailer, which gave off the faint odor of just another hokey sports movie. But because I'm fascinated by the not-so-sweet science and had the privilege of covering Ali's last five fights, I figured it was my duty to check out Clint's ring debut eventually.

That Friday night, I attempted to see another movie. Sold out. I was surprised to find that "Baby" wasn't. Then again, it had generated almost no Hollywood buzz.

I made it through about half of "Baby" before walking out.

That's right: I said no mas to a movie Sports Illustrated eventually would proclaim "the greatest fight film ever."

Maybe I've taken too many e-mail punches.

But my intelligence was sucker punched from the opening scene on. As we first see Swank, playing a boxer named Maggie Fitzgerald, she has just won her fight on the undercard of what you soon realize is a heavyweight contender's fight at the Grand Olympic in downtown Los Angeles. I know the building. It seats about 6,000, and as Maggie watches from the wings, it's packed with screaming fans.

A female boxer would have to be reasonably accomplished to get a shot on that undercard.

Eastwood, as Frankie Dunn, trains the heavyweight contender. After Frankie's fighter wins, Maggie waits for Frankie and begs him to train her. Of course, Frankie gruffly brushes her off with: "I don't train girls."

Yet Maggie shows up unannounced and unwanted at Frankie's hole-in-the-wall gym and starts trying to punch a bag. She looks as if she has never boxed before. Frankie and his right-hand man, Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris, played by Morgan Freeman, cringe at this pathetic sight.

But of course, Maggie hangs around day after day, ignoring Frankie's insults and pathetically punching that bag, until Frankie's heavyweight fires him and Frankie finally says, what the hell, he'll train the girl. They start from scratch, with Maggie taking on the weakest competition.

Time out: I'm supposed to suffer punch-drunk amnesia and forget that Maggie had won a fight on the undercard of a fighter one step from a heavyweight title bout?

If the movie had opened with Maggie walking into Frankie's gym in her waitress outfit and pathetically punching a bag, I'd have been intrigued. And if Clint's boxing dialogue hadn't been so stilted and the wisdom he imparted to Maggie so painfully hokey, I might have forgiven that opening plot device. Obviously, the screenwriters wanted you to see Frankie at his height so you could appreciate his plunge.


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