Will Smith, Ali
Credit: Ali: Frank Conner

Oooh, those first 15 minutes of Ali. Sam Cooke wails, women wilt, and Muhammad Ali images flit by: Ali as a kid, Ali jogging down the street, Ali bursting into a weigh-in barking ”Rumble, young man, rumble!”

The rest of Michael Mann’s movie doesn’t come close. Sure, Will Smith gives an Oscar-worthy performance and the direction is technically flawless. But Mann is so enraptured with Ali the symbol — the script contorts wildly to connect him with virtually every major event in African-American history between 1964 and 1974 — that he misses the man. From Ali’s bouts with the Nation of Islam to the Rumble in the Jungle, the movie belies its own tag line (”Forget what you think you know”). In fact, despite the jaw-dropping scope of the film, Mann shows us nothing but what we know; the scant personal insights are either dubious (Howard Cosell informing Ali he’d won his Supreme Court appeal) or reserved for throwaway lines (like the fighter’s well-documented womanizing, which is given quickie, third-act treatment). Of course, none of this means ”Ali” is a bad movie. It’s just that what should have landed like a haymaker feels an awful lot like a glancing body blow instead. B

  • Movie
  • 157 minutes