At the risk of mixing sports metaphors, Kent Moran takes a page from Sylvester Stallone’s playbook for his Bronx-set boxing film The Challenger.
Moran’s directorial debut is a showcase for the multi-hyphenate, who wrote and stars in this pugilistic tale as well as serving as a producer and editor. But he’s unlikely to skyrocket to fame like Stallone, who as Rocky Balboa demonstrated his physical commitment to a role while still revealing the humor and sensitivity of his down-and-out palooka.
Moran also trained extensively to play Jaden Miller, but he wears his angular James Dean features like a brooding mask, barely registering any emotion throughout the film’s heart-tugging machinations. There’s little veracity to the character, a self-described street brawler who’s obviously never had his nose broken, or to the setting: Moran depicts an eviction notice as a landlord locking his tenant out instead of the start of a legal process.
Raised by the compassionate Jada (S. Epatha Merkerson) and trained by gruff Duane Taylor (Michael Clarke Duncan in his final film), Jaden follows the well-worn path of an underdog boxer fighting his way out of poverty. But the Bronx is simply a backdrop, and Moran never explores how this white kid defined his identity within a black family and a diverse community. Even the gravitas of Merkerson and Duncan can’t save this flimsy construct of boxing-movie clichés. Moran casts himself as a cinematic upstart with The Challenger, but he’s punching above his weight.
Written and directed by Kent Moran
Wishing Well Pictures and Freestyle Releasing
Opens September 11, Regal E-Walk Stadium 13
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2015