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Big George Foreman (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 28, 2023


Starring Khris Davis, Jasmine Mathews, John Magaro, Sullivan Jones, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Sonja Sohn, Forest Whitaker, Shein Mompremier, John Magaro, Matthew Glave, Sam Trammell, Erica Tazel, Jasmine Mathews, Al Sapienza, Judd Lormand, Deion Smith, Ryan Reinike, Billy Slaughter, Eric Hanson, Deneen Tyler and Miles Doleac.

Screenplay by Frank Baldwin & George Tillman Jr.

Directed by George Tillman Jr.

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. 133 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Nowadays, George Foreman is thought of mostly as a sweet and slightly goofy reality TV guy. (Also as the guy who named five of his sons George, and one daughter Georgetta.) However, he was a pioneer in sport; the only person ever to win the heavyweight boxing championship twice, over 20 years apart. (And this was back when winning the heavyweight boxing championship actually meant something.)

Of course, even the two championships showed very different incarnations of Big George. In 1972, when he first shocked Smoking Joe Frazier to win the belt, he was a stud – a fit, trim, angry man with a punch which could stop a bull. However, his upward momentum was halted a couple of years later by Muhammed Ali, who cemented his own comeback by taking the championship away from Foreman.

By the time he made his unlikely comeback in the 1990s, Foreman was a completely changed man. He had found religion, becoming a minister. He had all of his earnings embezzled and had worked hard to get his financial house back in order. He hadn’t fought – or even trained – for over a decade. He was aging, a bit overweight, out of shape, and had lost much of his anger, replacing it with faith and hope. And he was no longer so serious and grim, showing an offbeat and slightly silly sense of humor. But he still had that killer punch.

Khris Davis, who plays the boxer in this biopic, told me recently that he didn’t know Foreman’s story before getting the role. In fact, he was barely aware of the boxer at all. “I didn't know much about him, except for the fact that he was the hurdle that Ali had to get over…,” Davis said. “… And I knew him as the grill guy from the commercial.”

So, since you have to be well into your 40s to not think of George Foreman as a grill huckster, maybe it is time to give another look at his legacy. The film Big George Foreman does an uneven, but fairly decent job at reclaiming his importance in boxing.

It sometimes takes its subject way too seriously, as can be gleaned by just reading the entire verbose and overhyped official title of the film: Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World. (Future Heavyweight Champion? Unless he’s planning on another comeback attempt in his 70s or 80s, that isn’t going to happen.)

The film also does tend to get a bit too heavy on religion in the second half. I mean, I had honestly forgotten that Foreman had become a minister. I’m glad he found peace in his faith. It is definitely an important part of the man’s story. However, eventually Big George Foreman tends to get a little bit preachy during these sections.

Sadly, the film also tends to neuter the lighthearted, funny man he became on TV and in interviews in his later years. (Check out the totally surreal travel reality series Better Late Than Never he did with William Shatner, Terry Bradshaw and Henry Winkler like five to ten years ago.)

And hell, the George Foreman Grill is only mentioned in passing a few times in the film.

That said, when Big George Foreman is focusing on the man’s life and his boxing career, it is rather fascinating sports bio and does a good job of arguing that Foreman was one of the icons of the sweet science. “I think if Ali hadn't been there, we'd be calling George Foreman the greatest fighter of all time,” Davis told me.

The early years, from childhood through the miliary, the Olympics, and his early years as a pro, his cheating first marriage and his financial implosion are pretty fascinating stuff. As is his eventual late-in-life comeback.

Khris Davis does an impressive job as the champ throughout most of his life (Austin Davis Jones plays him as a teen). In fact, Davis went above and beyond to put on significant weight and basically becoming nearly unrecognizable to play Big George in his later years, much like Robert De Niro’s transformation as Jake LaMotta from young man to old in Raging Bull. Forest Whitaker as his trainer and Sonja Sohn as George’s religious mom also do amazing work here.

Let’s face it, George Foreman had such a fascinating life there is no way this film could not be interesting. Big George Foreman doesn’t punch out of its class, like its inspiration did, but it’s a very watchable, if slightly pedestrian, sports bio.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: April 27, 2023.


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