Ben Younger’s Bleed for This has problems that are, to varying degrees, its own fault. Part of this is a condition of the state of cinema in its current incarnation. While Bleed for This isn’t a sequel, a reboot or even an attempt at sparking some new franchise, it is — in its own way — perfectly pat and lacking adventure. The film is of the based-on-a-true-story variety, with a beefed-up Miles Teller sporting a wispy mustache and playing real-life boxer Vinny Pazienza, who came back from a horrific car accident and paralysis to fight once more. It’s a crowd-pleaser, one that hits every note and beat expected of it, all within the framework of its by-the-book boxing genetics. It’s all about overcoming the odds and the indomitable human spirit. And Bleed for This is perfectly adequate in these respects — it’s just not very exciting or interesting.
I’ve written this numerous times before, but being a retread on paper isn’t necessarily a death knell for a movie. How the subject matter is handled or molded by the director can make all the difference, which is why the lack of creative moxie in Bleed for This makes for a film that’s sufficient and little else. This is especially frustrating when the movie should know better after Ryan Coogler’s Creed came out last year and did little more than just restart Rocky (1976). But Coogler had enough smarts to add questions of race, legacy and family into the mix. Bleed for This has none of this on its mind. Instead, this is a boxing movie pared down to its basics and whittled down to verve-less clichés.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare Bleed for This to Creed, which — somehow, some way — managed to get everything just right, but these movies don’t exist in a vacuum. So, if you want look at the boxing movie within its own context, it’s disappointing to see this small subgenre take a step back. The boxing here isn’t dynamic or cinematic, and the story isn’t especially engaging. Most disappointing of all, however, is how the movie trips up when it comes to race, presenting yet another tale of the underdog white boxer. Nothing in Bleed for This feels essential or new.
Now for the subjectivity, where I admit I’ve never liked Miles Teller in anything I’ve seen him in. I’ll add this movie to that list. (His performance as the cocky dirtbag with a heart of gold Pazienza is getting a bit of praise, so do with that as you will.) Generally, I found him engaging here, but Teller has that Tom Cruise syndrome of being a bit too unlikable to properly play unlikable. He plays the jerk so well there’s never a moment of sympathy, meaning the film lacks that all-important emotional center, especially crucial for the uplifting sports flick. Yes, Bleed for This is engaging on a base level, but it’s missing so many key components — imagination, a strong cast — that there’s little here to truly recommend. Rated R for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images.
Now Playing at Carmike 10, Epic of Hendersonville and Regal Biltmore Grande.