“Price of Glory” is an earnest but flatfooted saga about a Mexican-American former boxer who obsessively pushes his three sons into the ring in search of the success he never enjoyed. Heartfelt good intentions are all this TV-style family yarn has going for it, as it moves predictably, telegraphs all its punches and connects very few telling blows. This New Line release, which closed the Santa Barbara Film Festival, may hold some appeal for Latino auds in the Southwest but will fold after a couple of rounds in the big arena.
Debuting screenwriter Phil Berger may have covered the sweet science for the New York Times for seven years, worked with Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes on their autobiographies and written a book about Mike Tyson, but his journalistic expertise doesn’t prevent his fiction from being obvious and contrived. Director Carlos Avila, whose similarly sincere but unexceptional American Playhouse featurette “La Carpa” played at Sundance in 1993, doesn’t help matters by hitting every note squarely on the head and underlining the script’s major points with numbing repetitiveness. (Pic centers on the common immigrant theme of a father wanting for his kids what he didn’t have himself).
The film sports an old-fashioned approach that, the different ethnicity aside, is closer in tenor to ’30s Hollywood than to the sort of boxing film that scores today, specifically this year’s most popular Sundance title, “Girlfight.”
In fact, you can just about see Spencer Tracy as the middle-aged Irish-American who washed out as a pugilist years ago and now never lets up as he trains his son Mickey Rooney and a couple of other scrappers for the title shot he never got.
Only today, it’s Jimmy Smits as Arturo Ortega who, as the opening sequence shows, was brought along too fast in his career in the ’70s and subsequently guides his sprigs Sonny and Jimmy through the pre-pubescent Silver Gloves tournament in Arizona.
When action jumps to the present 20 minutes in, the boys’ baby brother Johnny has joined them as a promising prospect. The three kids have responded in somewhat different ways to their father’s constant prodding, needling and criticisms: Sonny (Jon Seda), the eldest, is a sharp-looking young man with real boxing skills, but is more interested in starting a family of his own and carving a place for himself in the larger world than in wearing a championship belt; Jimmy (Clifton Collins Jr.) is more of a bad boy whose natural response is to rebel and do the opposite of what Dad says; while the young Johnny (Ernesto Hernandez) has the best attitude and an intuitive feel for the sport.
The boys enjoy a pretty solid family life with their father and ever-supportive mother (Maria del Mar), and this is not a film in which the normal components of life-education, romantic entanglements, jobs, friends, social pressures — are permitted to distract the characters or the viewer from the straight and narrow of dedication to training and boxing. No, the only problems come, not from the mean streets of the desert, but from dear old dad, who is often his own, and his family’s, worst enemy.
In a scene that’s embarrassing in both its writing and staging, the parents of Sonny’s intended bride arrive at the Ortega household, are immediately ushered to the table to eat and, within minutes, decide to leave due to Arturo’s presumed insults.
Indeed, the man’s tendency is to react to disagreements and adversity in rash, stupid and self-defeating ways. He may be wise, at first, to reject the overtures of big time boxing promoter Nick Everson (Ron Perlman), who smells major paydays with the Ortega boys down the line. But the obstinate Arturo carries his “I know what’s best” routine too far, with results that are initially unfortunate, as when the bit-chomping Jimmy bolts to sign with Everson on his own, and ultimately tragic. Latter development can only be answered by a redemptive performance in the ring, which is duly delivered.
Given the heavy volume of boxing pictures that have appeared over the years, a film such as “Price of Glory” needs to offer something fresh to be worth its while. Perhaps the Latino family angle was meant to supply that something, but the story offers nothing particularly new or insightful about family dynamics, and the characters are drawn quite narrowly, without the fulsome dimensions to make them interesting.
Smits’ Arturo is clearly meant to be a large portrait of a flawed, upwardly striving patriarch, but he doesn’t seem to learn anything over the course of the years until it’s almost too late. For a man with three legitimate contenders for sons who has had to negotiate the reefs of professional boxing populated with so many sharks, Arturo remains strangely naive and almost innocent in his view of the world; given the extent to which he messes things up, one can hardly blame his boys for wanting to move on to more experienced trainers and managers to take themselves to the highest level.
Since the story begins when the kids seem almost alarmingly young to be pounding away at opponents in the ring, the opportunity existed for the film to go further than others in its genre in showing — with precision and in detail — what it really takes to make a first-rate fighter; despite numerous training sessions and bouts, one learns nothing along this line.
Other disappointments include the lack of colorful characters among the gym denizens; certain odd details, beginning with the dominant figure in the brothers’ weight class being a trash-talking white man, something that hasn’t been the case in any division in years, and the boxing footage itself, which is often choppy and unrealistic, occasionally incoherent in the way it’s shot and edited, and essentially unimpressive compared to ring bouts in countless other pictures, from the recent to the vintage.
Avila’s ponderous pacing and frequent repetitions make for a two-hour picture, which is considerably longer than it needed to be. The valiant Smits is required to carry the entire undertaking on his determined but wearying shoulders and makes the best of a trying situation.
Seda, Collins and newcomer Hernandez are physically and emotionally convincing as the sons who are required to follow in their father’s footsteps and exceed them, while tech contributions have conspired to create a thoroughly average-looking motion picture.