Main cast: Will Smith (Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali), Jamie Foxx (Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown), Jon Voight (Howard Cosell), Mario Van Peebles (Malcolm X), Ron Silver (Angelo Dundee), Jeffrey Wright (Howard Bingham), Mykelti Williamson (Don King), Jada Pinkett Smith (Sonji), and Nona M Gaye (Belinda)
Director: Michael Mann
If you believe that autobiographies should glorify the subject rather than portray the good and the bad of the subject, Ali will be your thing. This movie is so involved in smooching the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali that it all but crawls up Ali’s (metaphorical, of course) sphincter and takes up permanent residence in what lies beyond.
Muhammad Ali, or Cassius Clay as he’s called before he converted to Islam, is a legend and for good reason. He’s the first African-American to succeed in his time in a really big way. But he’s also a womanizer, a racist, and his politics are dodgy and suspect. In short, he’s a human being, not some superhero this movie makes him out to be.
Will Smith tries, but I never really can forget that he’s Will Smith trying to play Muhammad Ali to immerse myself fully in his role.
But the more serious flaw here is the movie’s tendency to portray Ali’s boxing scenes in MTV-like flash, fast forwarding through Ali’s more interesting conflicts and character development outside the ring. His thoughts, philosophy? I won’t get any clue of those things in this movie. In this movie, Ali is just a smug, superhero boxer who looks like Will Smith.
Predictably, it also glosses past Ali’s flaws in a half-hearted, apologetic way.
The inevitable result is me not getting an iota of insight into the legendary Ali’s life, psyche, or character. All I get is a Behind the Scenes-like flash and dash movie targeted at die-hard Ali fans who are already besotted with the subject of the movie to care whether the movie is actually telling them something. It isn’t, by the way.