Plenty serviceable as a belated documentary addendum to “Rocky,” director Jesse James Miller’s bio of ‘80s-era World Boxing Council lightweight champ Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini connects on emotional levels in the telling of an up-from-nothing brawler whose colorful career climaxed in tragedy. Pic’s late-reel conceit of filming the meeting between Mancini and the son of the man he beat to death in the ring may sound contrived on paper, but it plays beautifully on screen, adding to the pathos of a film whose heart is in the right place throughout. Boxing buffs will weigh in toward lightweight VOD and DVD receipts.
Born in 1961, the descendant of Sicilian immigrants, Mancini came of age in Youngstown, Ohio, as the city struggled to overcome its reputation as, per the Saturday Evening Post, “Crimestown, USA.” The film does a fine job of showing how the closing of steel mills in Youngstown in the year after the 1976 release of Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar-winning “Rocky” made the town hungry for a real-life “Italian Stallion,” and how Mancini fit the bill, in large part by taking after his fighter father, Lenny, likewise nicknamed “Boom Boom.”
In addition to interviews with the likes of actor Ed O’Neill, who grew up in Youngstown, and fight fan Mickey Rourke, the docu features contemporary scenes of the charismatic Mancini revisiting his childhood home and the rundown bar where, as a kid, he used to visit his dad uninvited. Mancini biographer Mark Kriegel appears onscreen to establish that “desire” was the fighter’s distinguishing feature as he dominated dozens of opponents with his fearlessly showy style and eventually won the WBC lightweight title.
The pic’s archival fight footage, albeit milky, is compelling, particularly that of Mancini’s 1982 Vegas bout against fierce Korean boxer Kim Duk-koo, who went into a coma after sustaining massive head injuries — including 45 unanswered punches from Mancini — and died several days later. It’s a classy choice for the film to feature a mini-bio of Kim, who left behind a pregnant girlfriend at the time of his death. The meeting between Kim’s grown son Jiwan and the still-remorseful Mancini at the pic’s conclusion plays harrowingly as a result of both men’s honesty and Miller’s sensitivity in the lensing.
Tech credits are a touch spotty, most frustratingly in the haphazard transfer of old fight broadcasts.