Monday, October 15, 2012

Sucker Punch: "Split Decisions" (1988)

Gene Hackman takes a secondary role in this melodramatic boxing drama.

Hackman is Dan McGuinn, who is training his younger son Eddie (Craig Sheffer) to enter the Olympic boxing team. Dan still harbors deep resentment toward his other son, Ray (Jeff Fahey), who turned pro and signed with slimy promoter Lou (Carmine Caridi). Ray comes home for a visit, readying to fight the smug villainous Pedroza (Eddie Velez). Dan and Ray are still at odds, despite Dan's father's (John McLiam) efforts.

Lou makes a deal with mob boss guy Benny (James Tolkan) to have Ray throw the fight. Ray refuses, and Benny's goons (including Pedroza) break Ray's hand before tossing him out a window to his death. The one witness to the murder ain't talking, and Eddie cannot go through with a half-hearted attempt to off Pedroza. Eddie then comes up with a convenient idea. He will fight Pedroza in the ring, avenging his brother. Dan reluctantly agrees to train Eddie, and the big fight is on.

If you took all the subplots from all the "Rocky" films, you would have this movie. The acting is very good, everyone plays lower middle class boxer people extremely well. Hackman is especially good, a scene where he breaks down over Ray's death is unexpected and sad. Sheffer and Fahey do not play the McGuinn brothers as very bright, and that makes them more sympathetic. Dan, his son, and his father all live in the same apartment. Jennifer Beals is given a totally thankless role, about ten speaking lines, as a former girlfriend of Ray's who begins warming up to Eddie. Their romance is not pursued, and nothing really comes of it.

Drury's direction is very good, thanks in part to his New York City locations. There is a grittiness here that you do not find in any of "Rocky"'s sequels. Basil Poledouris' musical score is heavy on '80's synth, and sounds like every other score to come out of the decade. My biggest problem with the film was the script, as it always seems to be. Despite Ray being beaten and thrown out of a window, his death is ruled an accident! The silent witness, Eddie's decision to fight Pedroza, and the fact that the murderers all agree to the fight; none of it makes sense! Of course, everything is wrapped up in the final minutes in one tidy package, but the script takes the easy way out.

"Split Decisions" fumbles its screenplay, and barely clocks in at an hour and a half. While it is a good looking film, thinking about it will make you mad. What a wasted opportunity. (* *) out of five stars.