Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Occasional vicious violence and brusque language can't disguise the fact that this is at heart a wholesome, feelgood film."

Being a fat kid at high school is never easy. Jimmy (Tucker Albrizzi) has the bad luck of being in a place where it's physical as well as psychological, with a trio of boys who have put on their adult muscle early taking advantage of it by beating up anyone they feel doesn't fit in. Jimmy is ready to stand up for himself and is not without allies, but there's little he can do when they follow him on his walk home, kick him in the head and demand protection money so he's lucky that they happen to do it outside the wrong house.

Intervening to stop the fight and patching up the injured boy afterwards is one Action Jackson (Ron Canada), a former boxer who is saddened to see a nice kid in this situation and offers to help him learn how to look after himself. Though Jimmy's parents are hesitant at first and Jimmy himself has very little physical confidence, it's clear that something needs to be done. Enter Danny Trejo as Jackson's former trainer, taking the kid into the ring and showing him what boxing is about. The training is arduous, the pressure is on at school and Jimmy has a lot of doubts, yet it's obvious from the start that this is not the type of film to set its hero up to fail.

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This is a first time film for director Santino Campanelli and it shows. Former child star Albrizzi has a lot of talent but not quite enough assurance to take control in the rather stilted early scenes. The flow of the dialogue is much better when the older actors are onscreen. Trejo, who has had a run of mediocre bit parts recently, returns to form as the cynical but good humoured trainer and Canada brings a certain authority to scenes that might struggle to convince otherwise.

The notion that a well connected bully can be permanently put off by a single showdown may be wishful thinking but there are a lot of positives in the film as a whole. It's really nice to see a fat kid's life transformed without him having to become thin in the process, and he also gets a girlfriend (Elanna White) who shows no signs of being put off by his weight. Although it never interferes with the plot, there's lots of observational and character-based comedy in the film, and the school environment feels real rather than as universally horrible as it is in many such tales. There's plenty for teenage viewers to relate to.

Occasional vicious violence and brusque language can't disguise the fact that this is at heart a wholesome, feelgood film, but there's nothing wrong with that. Simple as it may be, it deals with issues that are of huge importance in many young people's lives and, for once, shows adults responding competently - even if Jimmy has to fight his own battle in the end.

Reviewed on: 28 Dec 2019
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Bully packshot
A teenager bullied because of his weight is persuaded to learn to box so he can defend himself.

Director: Santino Campanelli

Writer: Joe Campanelli

Starring: Tucker Albrizzi, Ron Canada, Danny Trejo, Elanna White, Jay Lee, Dino Petrera

Year: 2018

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: US


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