Gloves Off, 2017.
Directed by Steven Nesbit.
Starring Brad Moore, Paul Barber, Ricky Tomlinson, Denise Van Outen, Greg Orvis, and Laurie Kynaston.
This is the story of Doug, a fantastic fighter but not so fantastic businessman, who must save his beloved gym by training a gentle giant for a bare-knuckle fight.
The humble underdog boxing film. It’s a cinematic staple. Add to that the Full Monty formula. There was a period in the decade following The Full Monty in which any amiable, light-hearted British comedy about the working class struggler, striving for betterment (or just temporary salvation) was dubbed ‘the new Full Monty.’ Gloves Off would come very much under that description, as well as the underdog boxing picture.
So it’s nothing particularly new, but regardless, the elements within the formula of Gloves Off allowed enough scope to make an enjoyable film. To a point, Steven Nesbit’s film, which he wrote and directed (co-writing with leading man Brad Moore), succeeds. It’s light, it’s pretty entertaining. Characters might be thinly sketched but the experienced cast all play their roles with plenty of sincerity.
Brad Moore plays once promising boxing sensation Doug, who has inherited a boxing gym loaded with debts and on the verge of being demolished. He encounters Donny (Laurie Kynaston), an awkward and gawky teen, and his hot mum (Denise Van Outen) who instantly catches the eye of Doug. Along with a group of misfits within the gym played by the likes of Ricky Tomlinson, Paul Barber and Alexei Sayle, the plan is simple; Train and enter a fighter in a Gypsy bare knuckle contest to earn enough money to pay off the debt.
This is where the problems begin with the film. Everything is solidly entertaining, well played, if extremely light. Then suddenly several misguided (bordering on head scratchingly outdated sub-par 70’s comedy material) elements are introduced into the story. Firstly the ‘big fight’ aspect of the film rests on Vera (Van Outen) persuading her mentally handicapped brother to fight the hardest Gypsy in the country. Everything is pleasant enough until then, but that plot-point feels unnecessarily problematic.
We also get conflicting messages about gypsy tolerance and the bad rep that travellers get. On one hand the writers try to humanise a maligned community and promote a message of tolerance (within reason of course. It’s a comedy, not a political/social commentary ultimately). Then on the other hand there are bad caricatures of those communities and jokes against travellers become fair game and ultimately there’s a strange standpoint that suggests Romany Gypsies get a tough rap, and Irish Gypsies are fair game for mockery. It’s all pretty jarring, because the film doesn’t set out to be non-pc. It’s not South Park, or Family Guy, and it’s not approaching it with impish, boundary pushing cheek (whether you think those comedies happen to cross lines or not) but the sudden jump from light breezy comedy to jokes that feel incredibly outdated is quite jarring. It’s difficult to empathise with Vera as a consequence because she happily sends her man-child brother out to fight a huge gypsy behemoth. She might bemoan the attitude toward Romany gypsies but she’s a character who through familial and Romany traditions will send a mentally handicapped person out into bar knuckle street fights.
Likewise the comedy sort of waivers between light and breezy to occasionally cheap toilet humour. There’s an inconsistency of vision in places here and as said, some unfortunate creative choices which did, quite disappointingly, derail the film for me.
If you can overlook some jarring elements, it is otherwise a light-hearted and fun film which makes fair use of a decent cast. Everything is efficiently put together including some well choreographed bouts it’s just a shame about the misfires.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★