The Austin Chronicle

Wintry Mix

The holiday film forecast

By Marrit Ingman, November 23, 2001, Screens



The erstwhile Fresh Prince of Bel-Air floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee as the eponymous three-time heavyweight champ in this hotly anticipated Christmas Day release, originally slated to go head-to-head with the heavy-hitting Ocean's 11 on Dec. 7. The script, by director Michael Mann and Eric Roth (who co-penned Mann's The Insider), depicts the trash-talking pugilist's most turbulent years between 1964 -- when upstart Cassius Clay first faced defending champ Sonny Liston, took the name Muhammad Ali, and converted to Islam -- and 1974, when Ali reclaimed the title from George Foreman during the colorful "Rumble in the Jungle" bout in Kinshasa, Zaire. Though the film focuses on Ali's controversial personal struggles, such as his conviction for draft evasion and subsequent public disgrace, expect realistic in-the-ring action. Will Smith has been shorn of his signature goatee, equipped with an Afro, and buffed out by a rigorous training regimen with co-star Michael Bent (a former heavyweight champ who also appears as Liston), packing 20 pounds of muscle onto his lanky frame for the part, according to trainer Darrell Foster. (For the record, the transformation has also prompted Smith to publicly declare himself "a sex machine" known as "Willagra.") The script-to-screen process was no less grueling, with multiple directors attached and a grudge match with Columbia over the initial $105 million price tag. Yet Ali seems like a sure bet. Oscar loves a prestige biopic (think: last year's Pollock), and Smith is poised to strike out as a thespian heavyweight. The clincher could be Jon Voight's attention-getting turn as Ali's sportscaster nemesis, Howard Cosell. (Dec. 25)


Piñero ... Fresh-faced Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality) stretches to portray the hard-living Seventies Nuyorican poet and playwright Miguel Piñero. (December)

Iris ... The beloved novelist and prickly personality Iris Murdoch blooms again in a film adaptation of two memoirs by her widower, John Bayley. Kate Winslet plays the young Iris; Dame Judi Dench, the author in her later years, crippled with Alzheimer's disease.(Dec. 14)

A Beautiful Mind ... Russell Crowe plays schizophrenic mathematical genius John Forbes Nash Jr. in this Ron Howard film.(Dec. 25)

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