It’s tempting to think of this biopic as a dark “what-if” version of Rocky II, if not for the fact that Rocky II actually becomes part of the plot. It tells the story of Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), the journeyman New Jersey heavyweight fighter whose 15 rounds of fame—getting a title shot against Muhammad Ali in 1975—inspired a guy named Sylvester Stallone to make a movie called Rocky. The narrative deals primarily with the aftermath of the fight, as Wepner rides his celebrity to a rift with his wife (Elisabeth Moss) and a cocaine addiction, and Schreiber’s performance effectively captures an emotionally needy guy incapable of handling fame. What’s missing is enough of a sense of who Wepner is—including his relationship with his estranged brother (Michael Rappaport)—before his spiral towards the bottom, and perhaps a decision not to include Schreiber-as-Wepner doing retrospective voice-over narration that makes it feel a bit more playful than the events depicted would warrant. A nicely seedy disco-era production design keeps the energy level up, just enough to wish there was more energy given to why Wepner’s life was more rocky than Rocky.
Director: Philippe Falardeau
Producer: Liev Schreiber, Mike Tollin, Carl Hampe, Christa Campbell, Lati Grobman, Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Jeff Rice, Jeff Feuerzeig and Mark Gill
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan, Morgan Spector, Pooch Hall, Wass Stevens, Melo Ludwig, Sadie Sink, Michael Rapaport, Jen Ponton, Catherine Corcoran, Ivan Martin and Wiliam Hill