Strength and Honor



Slowhand Releasing

You might think that a story line involving a boxer, retired since accidentally killing a man in the ring but now forced to fight again to raise the money for his child's life-saving operation, would be the stuff of parody. But this is the achingly cliched scenario of "Strength and Honor," even the title of which has an all-too-familiar feel.

Michael Madsen (working in nice-guy mode again after playing numerous heavies in recent years) stars as Irish fighter Sean Kelleher, who years ago abandoned the sport at the demand of his now-deceased wife after accidentally killing his brother-in-law in a sparring match.

Now the debt-ridden Sean needs $250,000 to pay for his son's heart surgery, so he enters a bare-knuckle competition that just happens to pay the exact same amount. Unfortunately, his opponent is the fearsomely vicious "Smasher" O'Driscoll (Vinnie Jones), who has killed several men in the ring.

Complicating matters even further is Sean's relationship with Chaser (Michael Rawley), a young acolyte whose admiration for the older man leads to unfortunate physical consequences.

After the obligatory training sequences, it all winds up with the ultraviolent final showdown, with the film's tagline -- "The battle of good versus evil" -- providing a clue as to the outcome.

Director-screenwriter Mark Mahon is unable to inject any freshness whatsoever into this highly formulaic genre piece, though he has elicited several good performances. Madsen, sporting a reasonably convincing Irish brogue, is appealingly restrained in the lead role; Jones uses his impressive physicality to daunting effect; and Richard Chamberlain delivers an entertaining turn as Sean's no-nonsense trainer. But for all their efforts, the film might as well have been titled "Rocky VII."