Norman Oppenheimer is a small time operator who befriends a young politician at a low point in his life. Three years later, when the politician becomes an influential world leader, Norman's life dramatically changes for better and worse.
Chuck Wepner, the "Bayonne Bleeder," he was the pride of Bayonne, New Jersey, a man who went fifteen rounds in the ring with Muhammad Ali, and the real life inspiration for Rocky Balboa. But before all that, Chuck Wepner was a liquor salesman and father with a modest prizefighting career whose life changed overnight when, in 1975, he was chosen to take on The Greatest in a highly publicized title match. It's the beginning of a wild ride through the exhilarating highs and humbling lows of sudden fame-but what happens when your fifteen minutes in the spotlight are up? Written by
"Chuck" is a very entertaining and long-overdue movie.
Sylvester Stallone has denied that his character of Rocky Balboa was inspired by heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner, who fought professionally from 1964 to 1978. Well, let's just take a look at some of what happens in the "Rocky" movies, shall we? In the original "Rocky" (1976), an unknown white boxer was plucked from obscurity and given a shot at the heavyweight title by a flamboyant black champion. No one gave Chuck, er, I mean, no one gave "Rocky" much of a chance, but he trained hard (old-school) and greatly exceeded expectations during the fight. In "Rocky III" (1982), Rocky gets in the boxing ring for a match against a hulking professional wrestler and, at one point, the wrestler picks Rocky up and drops him to the ground outside the ropes. In "Rocky IV" (1985), Rocky watched James Brown sing from inside the ring before a match. In the career of what real life boxer did all those things happen? Chuck Wepner. Who wrote and starred in all six "Rocky" movies? Sylvester Stallone. It's no wonder that Wepner called himself "the real Rocky". Likewise, it's no wonder that the bio-pic dramedy "Chuck" (R, 1:38) was made to tell Wepner's story. I could say more about the details in common between the careers of Rocky and Chuck, but trying to avoid spoilers (in case you don't know Chuck's story), I'll just refer you to something Chuck says in the movie: "You don't know me. Well, you know me, but you don't know you know me." It's worth mentioning up front that this isn't the story of the making of "Rocky". "Chuck" is about Chuck. The release of "Rocky" changed Chuck's life, but he was the same person before, during and after his proverbial 15 minutes of fame. Chuck worked as a liquor distributor to pay the bills. He was a boxer because it was what he did best. He wasn't the quickest, strongest or most successful heavyweight of his day, but he could take a punch. In fact, he could take a whole lot of punches (a beating, really) and keep coming back for more. They called him the Bayonne Bleeder. He hated the name, but he loved the fame. Chuck enjoyed being recognized and treated special especially by the ladies. Never mind that he had a devoted wife, Phyliss (Elisabeth Moss), and a loving daughter, Kimberly (Sadie Sink), back home growing increasingly frustrated by the selfish and neglectful way that Chuck was treating them.
Chuck's life changed forever in 1975. After Muhammad Ali took the world heavyweight title from George Foreman in the fight known as "the Rumble in the Jungle", Ali said he wanted to fight "a white guy". Since Chuck was the only white guy among the top 10 ranked heavyweight boxers in the world, his manager (Ron Perlman) took care of the details and Chuck Wepner, little known outside of New Jersey, got a shot at the title. For this first time in his career, he trained full time for this fight which took place near Cleveland, OH. Chuck's performance against Ali (Pooch Hall) increased his celebrity greatly. Then he became even more famous the following year when the new movie "Rocky" seemed to mirror his life, especially regarding the Ali fight. As Chuck tried to take advantage of being the guy who inspired the 1976 Best Picture Oscar winner by reaching out to Sylvester Stallone himself, Chuck was also increasing his selfish behaviors, using cocaine and pursuing even more women, including a local bartender named Linda (Naomi Watts), who didn't want anything to do with him a sentiment now shared by Phyliss.
"Chuck" is a very entertaining and long-overdue movie. Chuck Wepner's story is indeed the stuff of Hollywood in the "Rocky" movies and in this movie which reveals Chuck's story to be as interesting as Rocky's. This film had four writers whose combined efforts really do the story justice. They are Jeff Feuerzeig (known mainly for writing and directing documentaries including "The Real Rocky" for ESPN), Jerry Stahl (mainly a TV show writer, he also wrote 2003's "Bad Boys II"), Michael Cristofer ("Original Sin", "Bonfire of the Vanities", "The Witches of Eastwick") and Live Schreiber, who, besides being the film's star and co-writer, also helped produce. The screenplay focuses on the drama, but has an effective and organic humor about it. In the hands of director Philippe Falardeau (who directed Reese Witherspoon's 2014 film "The Good Lie"), and in the practically perfect performance of Schreiber, this film portrays the most eventful decade of Chuck's life without judgment, showing his highs and his lows, and never loses sight of his humanity. Another quote from the movie sums it up nicely: "Sometimes life is like a movie. And sometimes it's better." This film is better than most. "A-"
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