Two stars out of four
There's no denying Mike Tyson is one of the most interesting sports figures of the last half-century and completely deserving his own feature film. Already the subject of an inferior 1995 TV drama, going the documentary route was a good idea and in the hands of sometimes reliable writer/director James Toback, this movie could've turned out to be a true contender.
Beginning with a relatively mellow and reflective Tyson, now a Muslim and sporting an imposing facial tattoo, Toback's film peaks far too soon. In full confessional mode, Tyson acknowledges his many past mistakes without being specific or fully apologetic and appears to be someone who is determined to now travel the high road.
If Toback had broken up and incorporated bits of this confessional throughout the film, there's no telling how great its impact would have been. Allowing Tyson to purge his soul with his own words does offer the film an undeniable level of authenticity and intimacy, but it also begins to grate just minutes after the movie starts.
Toback ups the irritation factor by employing frequent split-screen presentation and audio overlap. Listening to Tyson's lisping, girlish voice for 90 minutes is enough of a chore; hearing it double and triple-tracked with shifting visual images is an unnecessary challenge and ends up becoming pure torture.
Growing up without a father under the roof of a promiscuous mother in a New York ghetto goes far in explaining Tyson's future erratic adult behavior. After the gang-related mutilation of his pet pigeon, the passive wimp Tyson transformed himself into the vicious warrior Iron Mike and never looked back. With extensive tunnel-vision tutelage provided by mentor and manager Cus D'Amato, Tyson positioned himself to be the greatest heavyweight boxer of all-time. Then the bottom fell out.
Fame, ego and a fawning entourage turned Tyson into a social miscreant, and he reached its zenith during his eight-month-long train-wreck of a marriage to the equally self-absorbed actress Robin Givens. Toback includes the infamous Barbara Walters interview with Tyson and Givens where the wife all but condemns her husband while he silently observes and begins a slow burn.
This is followed by Tyson's rape conviction of beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington and his public squabbling with former manager Don King. Tyson refers to Washington and King with highly colorful epithets that cannot be quoted here and makes us wonder if newfound inner peace is authentic or just a PR sham.
If it was Toback's intention to portray his subject as a sympathetic figure, he failed miserably. If it was his goal to present a historical figure with tragic, cause-and-effect consequences, Toback also misses the mark. It's hard to feel sorry for a man who had such great opportunity laid in his lap only to squander it away.
Mike Tyson's ascent to and subsequent fall from grace is attention-worthy, but then again, so is a train wreck. As someone who has known Tyson as a personal friend for the last two decades, Toback should have known better than to try to make a documentary film that was so lacking in objectivity.
Toback's want-it-both-ways movie is as unbalanced and biased as his subject. Neither is better off as a result and both appear to be as equally desperate and sadly pathetic. (Sony Pictures Classics)