The Great White Hype
1996, R, 90 min. Directed by Reginald Hudlin. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg, Jon Lovitz, Corbin Bernsen, Cheech Marin, Jamie Foxx, Damon Wayans, Salli Richardson.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 10, 1996
Both the boxing industry and American race relations take hard left punches in The Great White Hype. Conceived by Tony Hendra, former Spy editor-in-chief and a founding editor of National Lampoon, as a sort of This Is Spinal Tap (in which Hendra also co-stars as the band's manager) meets boxing, the movie grew into a polyglot enterprise. Ron Shelton (the writer-director of films such as Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump) came aboard as Hendra's co-writer. Then, Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Boomerang) entered the picture as director. Add to this disparate group a fabulously talented cast of interesting actors and the end result is an uneven, though frequently inspired, satire. At the center of The Great White Hype is Samuel L. Jackson's Reverend Fred Sultan, a thinly disguised Don King-type of larger-than-life boxing promoter. Jackson is clearly having a grand time as Rev. Sultan, an ornately garbed and always-smiling capitalist, who counters all problems with effusive “I love you” hustles and “my brother” glad-handing. Rev. Sultan's problem is that boxing profits are down because people are tired of paying to see “brothers” beating up “brothers.” His solution is to find a white guy to fight his heavyweight champ, “The Grim Reaper” Roper (Wayans). Like the scorpion-in-the-road homage to The Wild Bunch at the beginning of The Great White Hype, Sultan is able to decimate all opposition. Thus, he digs up Terry Conklin (Berg), a former boxer and current Buddhist and headbanger musician, re-dubs him Irish Terry, hires some leprechauns, and it's off to the races. Similarly, Sultan co-opts muckraker wannabe Mitchell Kane (Goldblum) and puts him on the payroll in order to halt his journalistic digging. The Great White Hype makes sure to spread its slurs around equally. Also on Sultan's staff are a sniveling Jewish yes man (Lovitz), a WASPy Las Vegas hotel owner (Bernsen), and a corruptible Hispanic boxing official (Marin). The movie is chock-full of hilarious set-ups and jokes and the performances all around are pure delight. There's just a little too much of everything in here though, and that creates a scattershot pacing and the feeling that some sharp satire may have been sacrificed for the sake of equal-opportunity abuse. The Great White Hype may not win on a clean TKO but it certainly goes all 10 rounds.