Review in a Hurry: The story of real-life boxing underdog "Irish" Micky Ward, The Fighter is OK as a gritty indie with great performances from Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale. But the all too familiar Rocky-formula keeps it from being a total KO.
Good thing director David O. Russell (Three Kings) injects his signature shock and awesome humor.
The Bigger Picture: Massachusetts, the early '90s, Micky (Wahlberg) is a boxer other up-and-comers bout to move themselves up in the rankings. He's a professional rung on the ladder to bigger and better things.
Micky wants a shot at a middleweight title, but he's managed by his less than adequate his older brother, Dickie (Bale), and their mom (Melissa Leo). Back in the '80s, Dickie coulda been a contender. He even knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard. But now he's a crack-addicted felon. Mom is worse, always looking to scam cash from her son's matches with no regard for his safety.
As Micky, Wahlberg is the sane guy struggling to make good despite his backstabbing working-class clan. Lately, Wahlberg's found a niche for playing the straight man to his wilder costars. Opposite Bale, the sparks fly. The rest of the cast that includes Amy Adams as Micky's girlfriend, Charlene, (a hotter, less wallflower-like Adrian) is also stellar.
Director Russell has a knack for balancing many story lines at once (like in the highly underrated I Heart Huckabees), which is useful since there are quite a few subplots thrown into the ring, mostly involving Micky's extended family. And his oft-used handheld style is sensational at highlighting the neighborhood grime.
Speaking of grime, a documentary film crew is following Dickie around, hoping to capture his drug habit. Underweight and looking awful, Bale's an assortment of nervous ticks and crazy glances. This can get schticky quick, but Bale makes Dickie's desperation wildly fun to watch. When Dickie jumps out of a two-story building just so he can avoid his mom, the moment is outlandish, hilarious and unexpected.
It's disappointing then that in the final round, Fighter plays out like a Southie version of Rocky. The fascinating family dynamic gets pushed aside for a can-he-win-the-big-fight finish. Micky even uses the rope-a-dope strategy of winning fights. He learned it from Dickie, who we're pretty sure got it from the Italian Stallion.
The 180—a Second Opinion: As funny as the film is, some of the humor can be a bit too jokey. Nearly every scene that involves Micky's mom and his chorus of nagging sisters is peppered with lines that come too close to the bada bing, fuggedaboutit variety.