'Big George Foreman' review: A by-the-book biopic

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 09 2023 12:54 PM

A scene from 'Big George Foreman'
A scene from 'Big George Foreman'

George Foreman (Khris Davis) and his sisters grew up in abject poverty. As a big hotheaded teenager, he was a school dropout and engaged in petty crimes. When he heard about the Job Corp, a US government project that provided vocational education, he convinced his mother that this would be good for him. One of his mentors at Job Corp was Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker), who would later become his trainer in boxing. 

This film would then check off all important events in Foreman's career as a boxer -- from his stint as a rookie at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, to his heavyweight championship fight versus Joe Frazier in 1973, and his "Rumble in the Jungle" vs. THE Muhammad Ali in 1974. He retired from boxing in 1977 and became a devout born-again Christian. After 10 years, he returned to the ring en route to another world title at age 45.

This biopic had an unwieldy subtitle -- "The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World" -- that already hinted on the simplistic, step-by-step approach of director George Tillman Jr. in telling the life story of George Foreman. It was pretty much a paint-by-numbers story about a violent man's religious rebirth, hence there is the antiseptic feel of a reenactment in a religious TV show, like "The 700 Club."

Lead actor Khris Davis portrayed Foreman from his teenage years up to his mid-forties, quite a feat of physical and attitudinal transformation for this 35 year-old actor. The way he was photographed by Tillman's camera, David looked formidably imposing, despite being only 5-foot-11 in height (the real George Foreman is 6-foot-4). Davis so effectively captured the angry Foreman in his youth, and transitioned to the jovial Foreman of his later years.

Forest Whitaker played the familiar role of boxing mentor, a staple of every boxing movie there every was. A most scene-stealing actor was Sullivan Jones who played Muhammad Ali as a cocky trash-talking loudmouth. 

The religious aspect of this film held as much prominence as the boxing parts. The inspirational message was definitely there, although the dialogue in those parts can get too earnest, idealistic, and melodramatic. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."