Schreiber delivers a knockout, but CHUCK doesn’t go the distance
“You know me, but you don’t know you know me.” Chuck “the Bayonne Bleeder” Wepner educates the audience in his opening monologue.
Chuck, played here by Liev Schreiber, went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali in 1975 and went so far as to knock him down in the 9th round. He lost the bout, but his story inspired Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky Balboa. Chuck is a recounting of this seemingly astonishing bit of boxing and cinematic history.
Chuck was thumping his chest and womanizing long before facing Ali, much to the annoyance of his wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss) however, something about the Ali fight invigorated the prize fighter’s subsequent life decisions. That something was Chuck’s displeasure of being long-considered the butt of a joke. There was no way he could hang with the greatest boxer who ever lived. But even though he lost the Ali fight, Chuck shocked the world with his performance.
That world, captured so beautifully-well by Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, is an accurate recreation of the 70’s era where music, drugs and sports commanded our attention. Funky disco clubs are often an early backdrop to Chuck’s demise where he’s encouraged by well-meaning and foolish friends. Phyllis can’t continue forgiving his cheating and she dumps him, meanwhile, Rocky’s box office success only seems to galvanize his actions. Chuck’s downward spiral leads to drug abuse and prison time, and although Chuck doesn’t slip into Hollywood cliches and dark subject matters, the movie spends most of its runtime exploring his shortcomings.
While Liev delivers an astounding performance as the Bayonne champ – and why aren’t we casting him in more leading roles? – it’s the biography that doesn’t go the distance. Wepner just isn’t that interesting following his exceptional night versus Ali. He squanders literally every opportunity handed to him. That sort of misfortune lends itself well to this sort of character study, but that seems to be the sole focus of the film and thus doesn’t allow Chuck to keep audiences entertained and ultimately, fails to deliver any discernible message.