Spike Lee’s presentation of Mike Tyson’s one-man autobiographical stage show is messy, energetic, muscular — in many respects, bearing a resemblance to the different stages of the former heavyweight champ’s style in the ring. Yet while Tyson has been embraced as an entertainer, the more troubling aspects of his biography require the sort of friendly audience that attended this performance in July, and it’s likely one’s appreciation of “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” will be determined in part by whether the title itself (which also graces a companion book) can be taken at face value.
Strictly in TV terms, Lee has done an admirable job of bringing the 86-minute performance to the screen, for the most part avoiding tight close-ups because Tyson’s body and movements are such a part of the show, working up a noticeable sweat as he prowls the stage. If one of the advantages of filmed live events is providing the at-home audience a front-row seat, this is more like about the eighth row, wisely opting for a wider view.
As for the content, Tyson — loose and playful, if not always easy to understand — is at his best in the early going, recounting his difficult, brutal childhood, uncertain genetic origins and frequent brushes with the law. It’s perhaps the least vetted part of his biography, given the public nature of what followed.
From there, the piece segues to Tyson’s discovery by trainer Cus D’Amato, his marriage to Robin Givens, his imprisonment (“I did not rape Desiree Washington, and that’s all I have to say about that,” he announces, despite having a lot to say about everything else) and rehabilitating his life and reputation.
Still, it’s hard to escape a sense that there’s a lot of score-settling going on, from Tyson’s unflattering characterizations of Givens (as well as her mother) and promoter Don King to his extended riff on that notorious barroom brawl with boxer Mitch Green, which seems to go on about three rounds too many.
Now 47, Tyson is certainly a source of fascination, particularly for those who grew up watching his ferocity as a boxer. In that context, few stage performers have ever taken the line, “Lend me your ears” quite so literally.
If nothing else, the show (written by the boxer’s wife, Kiki) highlights Tyson’s diligence about reinventing himself, and “Undisputed Truth” clearly appears a cathartic endeavor for its star, including a portion in which he discusses the accidental death of his 4-year-old daughter. As for what viewers are ultimately to make of this somewhat mellowed version of the champ, Tyson’s latest fight yields at best a split decision.