(OSV News) – The man, the pugilist, the grill, it’s all there in “Big George Foreman” (Sony). What may surprise viewers who haven’t followed the titular fighter’s career closely is the strong – indeed, transformative – role that faith has played in his biography.
That’s one ingredient that helps to make this generally family-friendly film appealing. Yet, as its excessively wordy subtitle “The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World” suggests, this is not a movie free of aesthetic flaws.
Raised amid hardscrabble circumstances, George (Khris Davis) is anxious to please his strong-willed mother Nancy (Sonja Sohn) by realizing his potential. At the same time, though, he’s resolutely resistant to Mom’s unwavering Christian devotion – as expressed in her insistence on saying grace before family meals.
Troubled and emotionally vulnerable, George is plagued by fits of destructive rage. One of these nearly leads to his dismissal from Job Corps, an anti-youth unemployment program established by the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Instead, one of the initiative’s officials, Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker), helps George transform his anger into prizefighting prowess.
Under the caring guidance of his new mentor and coach, George rises rapidly to the top of the sport, winning a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City and defeating Joe Frazier to take the title belt in Kingston, Jamaica in January 1973. The following fall, however, trash-talking Muhammad Ali (Sullivan Jones) knocks George off the top perch.
While still embittered by this defeat, George is severely injured in a match and has a near-death experience that brings about his radical conversion to born-again Christianity. Despite his status as a top contender, he abandons the ring for the Pentecostal pulpit and a quiet domestic life with his equally pious new spouse, Mary Joan (Jasmine Mathews).
Putting his faith into action, George establishes a low-cost gym and community center for kids. When financial woes threaten its future, fresh challenges culminate in yet another historic achievement for him.
Sharper editing could have lent a faster pace to director and co-writer George Tillman Jr.’s too-leisurely profile. But his narrative (scripted with Frank Baldwin) will naturally please believers and includes few problematic elements. It should prove especially inspirational for older teens.
The film contains graphic boxing violence, an adultery theme, a scatological incident and fleeting scatological humor as well as a couple of instances each of mild swearing and crass language. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.