It seems unlikely that filmmakers will ever grow tired of making boxing films. The stories are rife with colorful characters, outsize egos, smack talk, personal perseverance, and lots and lots of blood. They write themselves, practically, and “Bleed for This,” the true story of Vinny Paz (Pazienza), slips easily into the oeuvre.
The film, written and directed by Ben Younger, follows the standard boxing movie formula: the charismatic and cocky young fighter, the inevitable adversity, the rousing comeback, the down-on-his-luck trainer (a paunchy and bald Aaron Eckhart), the moms and sisters and anonymous girlfriends cheering him on.
The unique thing about Vinny Paz’s story is how extreme his adversity was — a head-on car wreck left him with a broken neck and six months with a halo screwed into his skull. They said he might not walk again; he vowed to box again, and he did, through sheer will and poor risk management. Despite the halo screwed into his head, he’s got a bit of a screw loose.
Miles Teller takes to the role of the sweet, swaggering Vinny with relish. It’s fun to watch him boast and strut, but the real heart of the film is when Vinny is relegated to his cramped family home in Rhode Island, nearly immobile from the halo, unsure if he’ll ever fight again. A scene in which he awkwardly achieves a single bench press in his basement has the most emotional impact of the film.
Younger and cinematographer Larkin Seiple take a hand-held, observational style with the camera, and when it sits back and watches the effort and determination of this feisty fighter, it works. Other times, the camera wanders and peeks on its own — over autumn leaves to a smoking automobile carcass, through a doorway where a phone endlessly rings. There’s a feeling that often it can’t keep up with the characters and scenes into which we are dropped, amid rapid-fire conversations. Not everything lands with enough heft. The boxing matches are lightweight, too. The camera takes a ringside viewpoint, cutting often, and the punches whoosh and squeak, rather than thud.
The kernel at the heart of the film is inspirational — Vinny’s dogged determination. That’s the real meat of the story, and it’s there, buried underneath acid-washed denim and plastic aviators and undulating strippers. It’s just that what surrounds it is overly busy, cliché and rote: a story that we’ve seen before. You can’t shake the sense that the real Vinny Paz is far more fascinating than this basic boxing biopic.
‘Bleed for This’
Rated R for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images. 1:56. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Winchester.