Miles Teller proves himself a champ by going all 12 rounds as Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, the Rhode Island boxer who competed in three different weight classes – only to face the fight of his life after breaking his neck in a car accident and being told to hang up the gloves. That hyperbolic plot summary suggests a minefield of Hollywood clichés, and to be sure, Bleed for This sometimes bleeds right into them. But writer-director Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Prime) has a way of punching his way out of tight corners. And Teller, doing work to equal his star-making turn in Whiplash, gives his all and then some.
Vinny is a nightmare to manage – sex, gambling and brawling ranking high among his addictions, even if it’s right before a fight with Roger Mayweather. His father (Ciaran Hinds) goads him on while his mama (Katey Sagal) hides when his bouts are on TV; it’s a family to rival the bickering bunch that David O. Russell dished out so deliciously in The Fighter. But the trainer who whips bad-boy Vinny into shape is Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) – bald, pot-bellied and on the ropes himself, having just been canned by Mike Tyson. Cast way against type, the terrific Eckhart lets it rip and starts Vinny back on the road to winning.
Cue the car accident and Vinny being fitted with a “halo,” a metal brace screwed into his head that may help him walk again but pretty much ends his chances of getting back in the ring. Hum the Rocky theme in your head and you’ll know that Vinny will fight his way back, beat the odds and take on Roberto Duran for the middleweight belt in Vegas. It’s an underdog tale as old as time, and its familiarity is hell on maintaining surprise. Younger jacks up the action in the last third, but the air goes out of a fight movie when you can see the next jab coming.