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Fighting Irish:
Legends, Lists and Lore
(Discounted Hardcover from Amazon)
. "Strength and Honor"

Taking honors as the worst film I've seen this year is this import from Ireland that never should have been issued a visa. From its overblown title, to its inept production value in all departments, a ten-count is too much for this supposed boxing story that attempts to glorify a home boy back in the days when the sport was done with minimally wrapped knuckles and an absence of discipline.

My guess for why the financiers of the project sunk their moeny into it was the acquiring of "name" actor Michael Madsen, whom they jammed into the role of local boy Sean Kelleher, a one-time popular boxer who gave it up when his punch killed a friend.

Now, seven years later, deep in debt, his wife dead of a hereditary heart condition and his young son needing a very expensive American treatment for the same disorder, he decides to get back into the fights to earn the bread.

An against-all-odds sports story is usually a safe bet for some feel-good monetary rewards, but these investors didn't get their money's worth. A homeboy who made good is not necessarily the right choice to paly another home boy who made good, despite how good the chemistry seemed to be. That's why they have casting directors.

Madsen ("Mulholland Falls," "Sin City") is great in his usual supporting roles, adding his uniquely laconic tough-guy texture to his gangsters and good guys, which has earned him increasing demand. The lad, Virginia Madsen's bro', is lined up for two more releases this year, nine in 2008 and even a couple slated for 2009. But as shown here he doesn't have the emotive richness or range to sustain a starring role and he gets no help from a script that gives him so little to work with. Just as "Strength and Honor" exposes his limited scorecard, so too does writer-director Mark Mahon demonstrate how far out of his depth he is with his flaccid, repetitive and entirely predictable storyline.

Occasionally, the training and fighting choreography works well and, when it does, it's the highlight of the film. When the fighting begins around the 65th minute of the film's 104, you feel a charge of something that can be recognized as drama. But it's too rare and too minuscule to salvage the film as a whole, which has more posing than acting. Best poser of all award goes to the villain of the piece.

Though Richard Chamberlain ("I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry") doesn't any more belong in a boxer's gym than he does on a ballet stage, you've got to give it to him for looking great. Personally, that is -- hardly in the underwritten role of a boxing trainer. No particular instinct for the sport shows he obviously knows nothing about what he's training people for. But, then, the same can be said about the writing, doing dishonor to the memory it tries to capture.

Wish I could balance all the blame I see with something positive, but that would be a round I couldn't win. So suffice it that I warn you to sit this feature out. It's not even a contender for the DVD bins, to which it'll be banished before the eight count.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Michael Madsen as Sean Kelleher.
And, yes, that's Richard Chamberlain behind him.

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