Plot: Jaden (Kent Moran) seemed to have a bright future ahead, but an ill advised fight cost him his scholarship and he was kicked out of school. Now his life has been in a downward spiral and nearing rock bottom, he knows he needs to do something before he runs out of options. He hasn’t been able to find consistent work or even a place to call home, so he decides to reach out to Duane (Michael Clarke Duncan), his former boxing trainer. Of course, Duane is hesitant to work with Jaden after all his missteps, but he also sees real potential in him and agrees to be in his corner. As he trains and tries to get his life back on track, Jaden winds up the subject of a documentary, as the filmmakers want to document his effort to get his life back. But can Jaden prove himself both inside the ring and in his private life, or will this last chance prove to be yet another mistake in a long series of disappointments?
Entertainment Value: This is of course a narrative we seen more times than we could count, as an underdog tries to overcome the odds in one last chance to shine, with the help of an inspirational mentor. I have a soft spot for boxing movies, so I didn’t mind The Challenger, but even as a fan of the squared circle genre, I can’t give much praise to this one. The movie’s main draw is that it offers the final performance of Michael Clarke Duncan and his role is a prominent one, so his fans might appreciate the movie just based on that. But Kent Moran casts himself in the lead and that was a mistake, as it keeps the film anchored in the mediocre section of the scale. I’ve seen much worse, but The Challenger never rises above passable and sadly, doesn’t even try to mix new twists into this tired, overused concept. So the movie hits all the cliches and never tries to veer off that well worn path, so expect a “been there, done that” experience that leaves little impression. Even so, I’m sure some fans of boxing cinema, underdog stories, or Michael Clarke Duncan might find a little to like here.
As I said above, the presence of Michael Clarke Duncan is likely to be the main reason most people seek out The Challenger. His role is a sizable one and he is around a lot, as the mentor of our troubled boxer. The performance isn’t one of his better ones, but it is solid and you can tell he isn’t just phoning in it. This is especially clear in the credits scene where he talks to the camera for a few minutes, he obviously enjoyed the shoot and believed in the movie’s message. Kent Moran has the lead and was also the film’s director, writer, and producer, so this was his passion project it would seem. I think his performance is one of the movie’s weakest elements, as he doesn’t have the charisma or athletic presence to make the role believable. Not a terrible effort, but perhaps a more appropriate lead could have worked wonders here, as a more colorful or skilled actor might have elevated the material. The cast also includes S. Epatha Merkerson, Lindsay Hartley, and Wayne W. Johnson.