*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Reginald Hudlin’s “The Great White Hype” is a satire about what’s wrong in boxing. The sport has had its share of bad luck, as it seems to attract a criminal element to what should be a competition between two men in the ring. The film starts with a promise to make justice to the material that Ron Shelton, one of the best writers/directors that has done his share about sports, co-wrote, but it feels as though something is missing, especially the anti-climactic conclusion.
The best thing in the film is Samuel L. Jackson, an immensely talented actor who feels right at home portraying these low lives that only he can give them life and even make them likable. We wouldn’t miss a movie in which this actor play because he always delivers, as is the case with his cunning character, the Reverend Fred Sultan. He is a boxing promoter who likes to cheat on his boxers, which is what he does to the actual champion, James, the Grim Reaper, Roper. Instead of paying him the money he owes him, he buys him another Rolls Royce.
Reverend Sultan comes up with a great idea for his protégé Roper. He has heard the way the champ was defeated in his early years by Terry Conklin, a man that now has a career as a singer. Promising Terry a lot of money if he agrees, Sultan cons him into fighting Roper again and he creates a hype around the fight, the main attraction being, a black boxer, who is a champion, fighting an unknown white man. The racial implications play into the minds of the fans.
Everything leading up to the match plays well. The only problem is the figure of Mitchell Kane, a sports commentator, who has been critical of the sleazy Reverend. Sultan takes care of that bringing him on board his team. On the other hand, loyal Sol, who has been with the Reverend for a while, gets fired.
Damon Wayans has some good opportunities to show what a talented actor he really is. He knows he can defeat Terry Conklin. In the process of waiting for the fight he begins eating and puts on weight. Others in the film are, Jamie Foxx, who has a small, but effective role as the manager of another black boxer who wants to fight Roper. Peter Berg is clearly out of his league in the film as Terry Conklin a man who wants to eradicate the homelessness in America with the ten million dollars he has been promised. Jeff Goldblum, a good actor, is not convincing as Mitchell Kane. The beautiful Salli Richardson appears as Bambi, an intelligent young woman who clearly understands what’s going on.