Starting in the early '60s, Michael Mann's biopic traces the career of Muhammad Ali (Smith) from his first heavyweight championship victory against Sonny Liston to his regaining of the title in Zaire in 1974. Cameos along the way come from Malcolm X (Van Peebles), Elijah Mohammed (Albert Hall), Howard Cosell (Voight) and Don King (Mykelti Williamson).
Alright, the bad news first: the narrative is as fragile as a glass jaw. Since director Michael Mann's interest is to film the myth rather than the man, there's no attempt to get to the bottom of his character other than his fundamental decency and relentless will to win. There's little mention of his serial womanising, almost nothing about his exploitation by the Nation of Islam, and his health-wrecking post Rumble in the Jungle career is left out entirely. All this is eminently forgivable, since the most enduring elements of the Ali myth have been so well documented already that Mann chooses simply to recreate them - and with absolute exuberance. There are so many things to enjoy here, it's difficult to know where to start, from the best fight scenes since Raging Bull to the classic soul soundtrack, to Don King's mad, mad hair. Then there's the performances. Jon Voight is spot on as broadcaster Howard Cosell; Jamie Foxx wows as Ali's half-bald human talisman Bundini, and then of course there's Smith's arrogant, but endearing turn as the Louisville Lip himself. By no means the definitive Ali picture then, but still a huge rush.