Directed by Michael Ritchie. Starring James Wood, Louis Gossett Jr, Oliver Platt, Heather Graham, Bruce Dern. (1992, R, 98 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 14, 1992
Considering the talents involved in this project it's hard to imagine that it would turn out to have anything less than competent workmanship, but never does it rise above that bare minimum standard or contribute anything that's not the least bit derivative or commonplace: Rocky meets The Sting, by way of some of Raging Bull's fight choreography. Woods plays a con man named Caine who, fresh out of prison, heads to Diggstown and, along with his partner and front man (Platt), plans a high-stakes prizefight sting. Diggstown is a corrupt backwoods gambling center presided over by unctuous slimeball John Gillon (Dern). The con involves Caine's former prizefighter pal “Honey” Roy Palmer (Gossett) taking on ten of Diggstown's best and staying up for the count. The scam takes several twists and turns but you'd honestly have to be a brain-addled boxer not to see the curves coming and predict their outcomes. There's not a whole lot of sting to this scam; just greed and braggadocio and plain, pure orneriness. Dern's villain is about as transparently evil as a character can be, as flat as if he'd been run over by the two-dimensionality steamroller. Woods plays his signature ballsy, lit-fuse figure, Gossett looks lost as if he's searching for a role to play in between throwing punches and poor Graham serves no discernible purpose but to flash some female thigh early on in this “all-guy” story. Every once in a while during the fight scenes you get flashes of the Michael Ritchie who, once upon a time, directed Downhill Racer. (But do you recall how much mediocre drama had to be gotten through before arriving at the exciting ski sequences?) Moreover, most of what's best about Diggstown's fight sequences are one-two combinations you've seen in other recent boxing films like Rocky and Raging Bull. Diggstown is more like Ritchie's Fletch series in which a generic detective story is obscured with wisecracks and a cute premise. Here we have a wisecracking fight movie obscured by greedy provocateurs and malevolent crackers. With recent films like Diggstown and Eddie Murphy's mega-disappointment The Golden Child, Ritchie's early promise is all but erased. It's a safe bet that Diggstown won't go the distance.