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Play It To The Bone  

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Antonio Banderas, Lolita Davidovich, Lucy Liu, Tom Sizemore Directed by: Ron Shelton Written by: Ron Shelton Rated R, for brutal ring violence, strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity, language, and drug content Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes Released by Buena Vista

"Play It to the Bone" contains many of the same elements that made director Ron Shelton's other films fun to watch -- colorful characters, snappy dialogue, and detailed attention to its subject matter. The only thing missing in his latest endeavor is the unpredictability of the story. Unfortunately, it is this very element that everything else hinges on. It's stunning how big a difference it makes when you know exactly where the plot is going.

The story centers around two boxers nearing the end of their prime. Vince Bourdeau (Woody Harrelson) and Cesar Dominguez (Antonio Banderas) are best friends looking for one last shot at glory. When a truly unexpected incident arises, the two boxers are asked at the last minute to fight each other in an undercard bout preceeding a Mike Tyson "Fight of the Century." The only catch... they have to be there in a matter of hours. So, they call upon Grace (Lolita Davidovich), Cesar's lover - and Vince's former lover - to drive them. Together, they set out for Las Vegas to make some money and hopefully recapture their pride which has eluded them for what seems like an eternity.

During the course of their trip, we learn about each man's brush with fame and glory, only to have it swept away at the last second. The journey will ultimately lead to each man's moment of truth -- the moment when they will be forced to reach down deep inside themselves to an area unexplored by most men, and unleash the kind of power not limited to physical strength, but also their strength of being -- the kind of power that unmistakably defines who they are.

Writer/director Ron ("Bull Durham", "White Men Can't Jump") Shelton is a master craftsman of colorful dialogue and spunky, unusual characters. The arc of the story is just too obvious this time around. What made his previous movies fun was the way the storylines soared off into a new direction just when you were convinced of the plot's destination. Sadly, that doesn't happen here. It's pretty clear from the outset what will eventually take place, how the fight will turn out, and so forth. I kept waiting for the unusual to develop -- those fascinating events only Shelton could imagine -- but the movie plays it straight. It's not an awful film, just one that never gets off the ground.

As described in the story, the term "play it to the bone" means to give it your all, to go all the way, to leave nothing in reserve. The two boxers may have played it to the bone, but unfortunately, the movie doesn't break the skin.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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