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‘Bleed for This’ lacks some punch

Aaron Eckhart with Miles Teller in “Bleed for This.”
Aaron Eckhart with Miles Teller in “Bleed for This.” Open Road Films

It doesn’t seem likely that filmmakers will ever grow tired of making boxing films, or that they’ll run out of inspiring athletes to make them about. “Bleed for This,” the true story of Vinny Paz (Pazienza), slips easily into the already established oeuvre.

The film, written and directed by Ben Younger, follows the standard boxing film 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, sisters and parade of anonymous girlfriends cheering him on.

The unique thing about Paz’s story is just how extreme his adversity was — a head-on car wreck that 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.

Miles Teller takes to the role of the sweet, swaggering dirtbag Vinny with relish. It’s fun to watch him boast and strut as the Pazmanian Devil in his prime, but the real heart of the film is the middle, when Vinny is relegated to his cramped family home in Rhode Island, nearly immobile from the halo. A scene wherein he awkwardly achieves a single bench press alone in his basement has the most emotional impact of the entire film.

Younger and cinematographer Larkin Seiple take a hand-held, observational style with the camera, and when it sits back and watches the determination of this feisty fighter, it works. Other times, the camera wanders on its own. 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 to do the simplest thing, which is the hardest thing: just to do it at all. That’s the real meat of the story, and it’s there, buried underneath acid wash denim and plastic aviators and undulating strippers. It’s just that what surrounds it is overly busy, cliche and rote: a story that we’ve seen before.

Bleed For This

1/2

Rated: R for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images. Starring: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds. Director: Ben Younger. Running time: 116 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 12, Flicks, Majestic 18.

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