Film

Lightweight Boxing Drama ‘The Challenger’ Goes Down Before the Count’s Up

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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.

The Challenger

Written and directed by Kent Moran

Wishing Well Pictures and Freestyle Releasing

Opens September 11, Regal E-Walk Stadium 13

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