BLEED FOR THIS (6 out of 10) Directed by Ben Younger; Written by Ben Younger; Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, and Katey Sagal; Running time 116 min; Rated R for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images; In wide release November 18, 2016

If there’s one thing we love, it’s the story of an underdog or someone overcoming adversity to reach new heights of glory. And how else to tell such a tale than in an uplifting sports movie? It’s been done countless times – Rudy, Rocky, Southpaw – and most of these are engaging and can easily get the audience cheering for the little guy or gal in the hopes of seeing them succeed. Bleed for This tries to follow in their footsteps and nearly comes close but is hampered by a story that is too long and drawn out as well as a lackluster performance by the lead.

Based on a true story, Bleed for This chronicles the fall and rise of Vinny Paz (Miles Teller) a lightweight boxer whose star career was cut short by a tragic car accident that left him with a broken neck. Worried that his injury could sever his spinal cord, his doctors recommend surgery that would fuse bones in his spinal column which would give him a normal life but permanently retire him from boxing. Not willing to give up on his life’s work, Paz insists on being fitted with a metal brace that would allow him to heal normally and hopefully get back in the ring. His trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) at first refuses to help him with his crazy idea of rehabilitation but eventually gives in and helps Paz both recover and eventually train to re-enter the boxing world.

This is a simple enough story and one we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its merits. Specifically speaking, Eckhart’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. His portrayal of Kevin Rooney is nearly perfect as the actor completely disappears into his character. It might have helped that Rooney is half bald and has a strong accent, but I didn’t even realize it was Aaron Eckhart until about halfway through. Not since seeing Kate Winslet in last year’s Steve Jobs have I been so absorbed by a performance that I didn’t notice the actor behind it.

If only the same could be said for Miles Teller.

Teller isn’t bad here. In fact, he does a good job. It’s just unfortunate that he still comes across as himself playing a role on screen. No matter what he does, there’s still this dude-bro aura around him that never lets up even if he is playing a completely different kind of character. It’s very reminiscent of the Van Wilder curse that Ryan Reynolds suffered from for years after that movie. Even in a wildly different role, elements of that persona forced its way through and reminded everyone this was just a person playing a character and not what he was trying to do on screen. Maybe this is a problem with the roles Teller is taking or maybe he’s just not that good an actor. Only time will tell as his career advances.

It also doesn’t help that the movie is burdensome and plodding as it plays out. Clocking in at nearly two hours, it feels much longer and will have everyone looking at their watches and annoyed that there is still that much more movie to go before it lets out. It’s not so much that it’s edited poorly as scenes drag on and there is too much exposition to get in the way of the plot.

So in the end, we’re left with an interesting story that unfortunately just isn’t told all that well. The boxing scenes are exciting, and Aaron Eckhart is absolutely fantastic, but there are much better movies out right now, and there are much better boxing movies to enjoy too (Southpaw, anyone?), so there’s just not too much here to recommend. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s definitely more of a lightweight than the strong contender it set out to be.

6 out of 10

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Tags: boxing , sports movies , aaron eckhart , miles teller , vinny paz