The Great White Hype

There are plenty of profane laughs in this cartoonish spoof of the fight game and, by extension, any game in which the profits soar in direct proportion to the publicity. Will Don King see himself in the Rev. Fred Sultan, a sports promoter played to the entertaining hilt by Samuel L. Jackson? If not, it won't be because this film isn't trying.

The reverend is losing money pitting black contenders against the black heavy-weight champ, James "The Grim Reaper" Roper (Damon Wayans). What's needed is a great white hope to hype the gate. Enter Terry Conklin, scrappily played by Chicago Hope's Peter Berg. Terry quit the ring to front a rock band, Massive Head Wound, but the reverend pulls strings to make him eligible to meet the champ in Vegas for the Fight of the Millennium.

The disgusted champ, hilariously sent up by Wayans, won't train to fight this great white joke, much less diet. His stomach bulges until he's told he looks like a "half-sucked Milk Dud." Even Terry is deluded into thinking he has a chance. Everybody gets sucked in. Jeff Goldblum plays a crusading documentarian who ends up working as the reverend's flack.

Director Reginald Hudlin (House Party) wants to skewer a culture of lies that KOs ethics. The uneven result may stem from the script credit shared by Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump), who knows the business of sports, and Tony Hendra (a former editor of Spy and National Lampoon), who knows the business of parody. Hudlin tips the scales by hyping the broad comedy and taming the sly satire. One sells; the other doesn't.

From The Archives Issue 211: April 22, 1976
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