“Chuck”

 

            “Chuck” is “based on a true story”----the life of boxer Chuck Wepner, “The Bayonne Bleeder,” or “The Real Life Rocky,” who once famously lasted into the 15th round with Muhammed Ali. 

            Chuck Wepner (Liev Schrieber) was actually an amateur until the Ali fight.  He was billed as the heavyweight champion of New Jersey, but professionally, he'd already lost enough fights (he was only 5-4 as a professional before the Ali fight) that he actually had to work for a living.  He was a liquor salesman, which is a poor choice for someone prone to alcoholism.

            After the Ali fight, and then the release of the wildly popular “Rocky” movie, Chuck Wepner really enjoyed his pseudo-celebrity status.  He stated in a rare television interview that he was interested in “wine, women, and song,” a statement which didn't exactly thrill his long-suffering wife, Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss), who also had an uncanny way of showing up when Chuck least expected to see her, like when he was out honky-tonking.  But Chuck's buddy since boyhood, John (Jim Gaffigan), was only too glad to be Chuck's party-buddy, and even joined Chuck in his slide into hard drugs, like cocaine.  Eventually Chuck was busted for itending to distribute, when he claimed he was “only trying to help out a friend.”  But Chuck took his 2 years in prison stoically, just as he had his bloody beatings in the ring.  Phyliss divorces him, and Chuck is only surprised she hadn't done so earlier.  He does miss their daughter, though.

            After prison, Chuck takes up with a bartender he used to know, Linda (Naomi Watts).  At last, Chuck seems to find the peace of mind that had eluded him, or maybe he was just too old to be so resolutely dissolute any more.  Either way, we find ourselves trying to like this lovable loser, just because, like the fictional Rocky Balboa, Chuck Wepner didn't have a lot of style, but he could take a beating, and keep coming back for more.

            Liev Schrieber plays a convincing blue-collar self-promoter, and somehow makes his charcter compelling despite his obvious flaws.  Or perhaps because of them.  Elisabeth Moss' smoldering, sarcastic frustrated infatuation steals any scene she's in, and Naomi Watts' Linda is just the right combination of barmaid vixen and soft-hearted tart. And Ron Perlman, as Chuck's trainer, just exudes the sweaty, seedy domain of the decrepit, desperate downtown boxing club.

            “Chuck” is the poster boy for the dilapidated folk hero who carries within his likeable-lug persona the seeds for his inevitable self-destruction.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Who's the most famous person you know?

2)                  Who's the most famous person you ever met?

3)                  Who's the famous person you'd most like to meet?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association