One Night in Vegas -- Film Review



AUSTIN -- Reggie Rock Bythewood's documentary "One Night in Vegas" is a maddening character study that never gets close to its characters. The hourlong film is part of ESPN's ongoing "30 for 30" series, in which pivotal but less-heralded sports moments from the past three decades are illustrated.

"Vegas" attempts to be a look at Mike Tyson through the lens of Tupac Shakur, focusing on the September night when Tyson retook the World Boxing Assn. belt from Bruce Seldon. Shakur was gunned down hours later.

Bythewood does his damnedest to act as if these two events aren't just emotionally connected but representative of a larger cultural shift, but he winds up merely running the facts and not coming up with any new theses.

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It's not as if the subject were without potential: Tyson and Shakur were lightning rods, public figures pushing the boundaries of ego to become the greatest in their fields. But Bythewood's story descends into hagiography when he paints portraits of men somehow pressed by forces outside their control to commit crimes that sent them both to jail.

Are Tyson and Shakur men beyond redemption? Of course not, and the glory of film is that no one has to be. But the spare 53 minutes of "Vegas" leave no room to investigate what drove these men to commit such acts, merely accept that they did them and move on.

The documentary is also presented with a weirdly stylized comic-book feel that undercuts the seriousness of the subject matter: It's jarring to go from Maya Angelou talking about the emotional weight of the memory of slavery to a series of rapid-fire panels that turn Shakur's gunbattles into cartoons.

Bythewood wants to have it both ways, to be playful enough to feel real but somber enough to feel important, but by grabbing for both he doesn't achieve either.

The most disappointing omission in the documentary is the fact that Tyson is somehow now this approachable figure, a miniature version of the iron-fisted and sexually aggressive fighter of 20 years ago. His appearance in "The Hangover" cemented his crossover from retired bad boy to self-aware caricature, and this superficial documentary is the next logical step in that transformation. Tyson was, and likely is, a complicated and dangerous man, but from "One Night in Vegas," you'd never know it.

Venue: South by Southwest Festival

Production company: Thirty Nights Prods.
Director-screenwriter: Reggie Rock Bythewood
Producers: Reggie Rock Bythewood, Damon Bingham, Harlan Werner
Director of photography: Cliff Charles
Music: Camara Kambon, Jabari Ali
Editor: Terilyn A. Shropshire
No MPAA rating, 53 minutes