Though it’s set in the world of the squared circle, “Percy & Thunder” is — as its title might indicate — more about relationships than boxing. Result should please fans of interpersonal bonds, but those looking for two hours of punches might be disappointed.
Film is latest under umbrella “TNT Screenworks,” originally designated to bring work of talented playwrights to the screen. “Percy” scripter Art Washington came up through the ranks of television, with various PBS writing credits, as well as directing network series “What’s Happening Now” and “MacGyver.” Maybe the theatrical connection comes from James Earl Jones and Courtney Vance’s previous credit, playing father and son on Broadway in August Wilson’s “Fences.”
Vance and Jones here star as middleweight Wayne “Thunder” Carter and his manager-trainer, Percy Banks. A former fighter himself, Banks is living his dreams through his protege while trying to avoid the “weasels” (his word) who abound in professional boxing.
Ralph Tate (Billy Dee Williams) falls into that category, a manager-promoter who has the “Universal Boxing Federation” tied up with his fighters and who covets Thunder for his own stable — and not, as it turns out, for the noblest reasons.
Gloria Reuben co-stars as an attorney who also has her eyes on Thunder; Gloria Foster as Percy’s (sort-of) love interest; and Robert Wuhl, sporting a very peculiar accent as a mid-level weasel.
Jones — always worth watching — plays pretty much by the numbers. Vance is convincing as a college-educated fighter, and Reuben and Foster make what they can of the somewhat stereotypical distaff roles.
Williams’ character sports an absurd-looking 12-gallon hat, but can rent all the mental and physical muscle he needs. Cozying up to Thunder, he says, “(Money’s) important, but I want to help a black fighter. I’m sincere about that … I got a couple of bright boys from Harvard who can make anything legal.”
Ivan Dixon directs with a sure if not flashy hand. Actors in supporting roles are uniformly fine, and tech credits are exemplary.