PHANTOM PUNCH: DVD
Discovered by a Missouri prison chaplain (Rick Roberts), Sonny Liston (Ving Rhames) made an early impression in the jail boxing comp. Paroled in 1952, he went on to a successful (and colourful) pro boxing career, winning the world heavyweight championship with a first round knock out of Floyd Patterson (Troy Amos-Ross) in September 1962 - a crown taken from him by Cassius Clay's infamous 'Phantom Punch' in May 1965, one of the most remarkable moments in sport history. After a year off, he went on to fight until 1970. In between, Liston had numerous runs ins, if not with racism then the mob, if not the mob, then the law. He was found dead by his wife, Geraldine (Stacey Dash) in their Las Vegas home on January 5, 1971 - his death remains a mystery.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With his unusually long reach and unusually large fists, Sonny Liston was destined to be a boxer. In this biopic, as portrayed by Ving Rhames, he is also unusually sultry - and very effective. It's easy to forget that Sonny Liston's era was also the era of racist bigotry so entrenched that many cops were as bad as the worst racist thugs, and insulted blacks as a matter of course, and worse. This, and the long reach of organised crime into the boxing ring, complicated Sonny's life.
Phantom Punch delivers some knock out scenes outside the ring as well as within it. Rhames is supported by a terrific ensemble cast that includes pretty Stacey Dash as his wife Geraldine, Nicholas Turturro as his manager Ceasar Novak, gorgeous Bridgette Wilson as Caesar's girl Farah, and David Proval as mob boss Savino - as well as Rick Roberts as Father Alios, who discovers and supports him over the years.
Whether it's 100% accurate or not, there is a terrific scene which at least seems authentic, when Caesar is hounded down by Savino's men after his charge, Sonny, wins the world title fight - against mob wishes. Edgy but also funny, the scene is indicative of the dangerous and corrupt world of boxing in the 50s and 60s. Other memorable scenes include a confrontation between Sonny and Farah in a bedroom, and the various fight scenes, all cleverly shot. The controversial 1964 Cassisus Clay fight (from which Sonny retires after 6 rounds claiming a hurt shoulder) is a good example of the 'clever' strategies used, in this case to show very little of the young and unpredictable Clay. As is their next bout in 1965, when Clay claims the crown.
The film is well put together, focusing on Sonny Liston's tumultuous life as he fulfils his destiny - while also falling foul of it. Suffering brutal discrimination at the hands of the police, Sonny Liston had to fight more than his boxing opponents. But the film is full of colour of the life kind, as well, as Sonny moves between New York, Chicago and Las Vegas. We get a great sense of the times from the fashions and the music and the way the media and the cops are portrayed.
But it's Liston's personal life that provides the greatest emotional fodder for the audience, as he rides the rollercoaster of his relationships.
Published April 9, 2009
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PHANTOM PUNCH: DVD (MA)
CAST: Ving Rhames, Stacey Dash, Nicholas Turturro, Alan Van Sprang, Bridgette Wilson, David Proval, Rick Roberts
PRODUCER: Ving Rhames, Hassain Zaidi, Marek Posival
DIRECTOR: Robert Townsend
SCRIPT: Ryan Combs
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Dyer
EDITOR: Michael Doherty
MUSIC: Stephen James Taylor
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Beb Sher
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
PRESENTATION: 16:9; DD 5.1
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Eagle Ent
DVD RELEASE: March 25, 2009