The Brawler (2019)
Wonder what script guru Robert McKee would have made of this film. Depicted in Adaptation as condemning the use of voice-over as flaccid, sloppy writing, his credo presupposes the existence of a script in the first place. The Brawler gives every indication that its badly ad-libbed scenes were just drafted onto a basic story lifted from an ESPN documentary. Not since The Creeping Terror has voice-over been so incessantly used to describe the mess unfolding on screen.
Chuck Wepner is depicted as a boxer whose style consisted of using his face to stop his opponent’s punches. After a particularly punishing bout with ex-champ Sonny Liston, Wepner’s record starts to improve, leading to a title shot against Muhammad Ali. Whereas his unexpected performance in that bout inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky, for Wepner the associated overnight fame leads to drug addiction, divorce and prison. After involving himself in such dodgy enterprises as wrestling bears and selling fake autographs, our hero seeks compensation from Stallone for the actor’s use of his life story.
This biopic is the filmic equivalent of such scams. Though featured prominently in the credits, Burt Young (who portrayed Rocky’s brother-in-law) is limited to watching a few of Wepner’s bouts on television; Rocky-era Stallone looks like he walked off the set of Cop Land; and the poorly recreated fights are diminished by commentary that seems removed from the action.
One can only assume The Brawler’s long-delayed release was timed to coincide with the latest Rocky instalment. If Creed II piques your interest, best watch Liev Schreiber’s Chuck instead.
Though it is true that Chuck Wepner served no time for his association with John Olsen’s autograph forgeries, according to Kevin Nelson’s book “Operation Bullpen: The Inside Story of the Biggest Forgery Scam in American History”, Wepner seems to have been more involved in the racket than depicted here.
Apart from Wepner's bout with Ali, the biopic also features recreations of Wepner's fights with Sonny Liston, Andre the Giant and Victor the wrestling bear.