Writer: Ryan Combs
Cast: Ving Rhames, Stacey Dash, Nicholas Turturro, Bridgette Wilson, David Proval, Rick Roberts, Alan Van Sprang, Egidio Tari, Andrew Hinkson, Troy Amos-Ross .
Phantom Punch, a flawed but fascinating film about a flawed and controversial legend of boxing, Sonny Liston, a film that explores the underbelly of American heavy weight championships.
Phantom punch was the controversial punch inflicted in 1964 by Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali when he converted to Islam, on the former heavy weight boxing champion Sonny Liston attempt to regain the title, a man known for his “killer” fists. That punch, for those of you old enough to have watched the fight, most probably in a black and white television set, knocked Sonny Liston out of his chances to that crown on the first round. Judging from the release of this DVD, the controversy continue to rage on, 46 years later.
Phantom Punch is primarily aimed at a niche audience, although it is fascinating to follow the life and tribulations of Liston. It is a flawed film about a flawed man who rose to the top of his sport from the dungeon of an American penal institution. It is a tough look at a tough man. It is also a biased movie, as the depiction of his greatest rival, Cassius Clay, by Andrew Hinkson is a caricature of the man. However, its subject is not only about Sonny Liston or boxing, it is also about racism that permeated America in the 50s and 60s and, to a lesser extent, even nowadays. Yes, people such as Liston were respected, but only in the ring, only as money making machines; in daily life, the “n” or “b” words were still being regularly thrown at them, or they were routinely being abused by the police, authorities and the press. It tackles the involvement of the mafia in organized sport, particularly boxing, when many boxers were “own” by particular families, used as cash cows and dispensed with when they became surplus to requirement, or attempted to fly with their own colours. Liston’s involvement with organized crime is hinted at, although it does not go beyond that as it seems that there is no enough evidence to prove it either way. Phantom Punch touches the traps posed by sudden riches and fame for celebrities when the term had not even been coined in its current usage or, if it had, it was not widely used.
While the portrayal of the environment where these events unfolded all those years ago gives its flavour, some of the details (such as the type of microphone that the singer was using) were not of its time. I found the use of the change of the cinematography from black and white to colour between chapters very annoying and distracting, particularly when those chapters are rather short. A gimnmck which I did not appreciate at all, as well as the rather anaemic and farsical sex scenes which could very well a good contender for the worst portrayal of sex in cinema. The special features are quite poor: certainly, I would have liked to have seen the footage of the actual fight between Liston and Clay.
Ving Rhames measured but powerful performance is a very convincing Sonny Liston, while Nicolas Turturro is brilliant as his manager. David Proval’s depiction of the family boss is chilling in his business like approach to crime and Andrew Hinkson portrayal of Cassius Clay was, frankly, ridiculous.
The film was originally released in the USA in 2008.
DVD Release date: 24th May 2010
Running time: 100 minutes
DVD RRP: £15.99
Distributor: Metrodome Distribution
All images © Metrodome Distribution