Play It To The Bone

***1/2

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

You can take your pick with this one. Is it a buddy movie, a road movie, a menage a trois or a fight game movie? Well, all of these. And more. Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas are terrific and director Ron Shelton's script plays hard ball from the start.

The story smells of a Hollywood pitch - best friends who train together in an LA gym get a call from Las Vegas to fill in at the last minute as openers for a Tyson fight scheduled for that evening. They don't fly, they drive and the only person who has a car and the time is Grace (Lolita Davidovich), who has been girlfriend to both of them.

Talk about divided loyalties. The deal is that they get $50,000 each and the winner a guaranteed title fight in Madison Square Gardens. You don't trust any of this, because you've met Joe Domino (Tom Sizeman), the promoter, and Hank (Robert Wagner), who owns the hotel where the Tyson contest will take place. These men have agendas, motivated entirely by money, sex and power. The fighters are pawns that can be taken off the board whenever it suits them. As Vince (Harrelson) tells Cesar (Banderas) at the start, "It's not just about fighting, it's about business." Not that he knows anything about that.

The film is unusual. Despite certain cliche moments, it doesn't follow traditional lines. The photography is startlingly clean, close on faces or wide over the grey desert, as Grace's classic green Oldsmobile speeds down the highway.

Vince has seen Jesus. After a wild youth, he met The Man when trapped under a car after yet another crash. Now he considers himself born again, has JESUS IS A REBEL tattooed on his chest, although thinks the church is full of hypocrites. "The first thing He's going to do when He comes back is torch the Vatican," he says.

Cesar smiles. "I'm an athiest, thank God."

And then admits there was a time when he experimented with homosexuality, which makes Vince squirm.

"You've got to play things all the way," Cesar says.

"To the bone," Vince says.

When it comes to the fight, pride matters more than compassion. Or so they believe.

"You don't have to hate a man to destroy him," Grace warns.

When they start having visions of Christ and naked women in the ring, you feel that Shelton's lost the plot. Most of the movie, he's focused.

Harrelson is such a strong actor and Banderas such a great one, the journey from LA to Vegas rushes past. On arrival, surrounded by sleaze factor operatives, in a swanky hotel full of Hollywood celebs, reality falls away. All that remains is the spectacle of two men trying to kill each other under bright lights amid howls of applause.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Two boxers drive from LA to Las Vegas with their ex-girlfriend to fight for a title chance.
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Director: Ron Shelton

Writer: Ron Shelton

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Woody Harrelson, Lilita Davidovich, Tom Sizemore, Lucy Liu, Robert Wagner

Year: 2000

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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