PLOT A young boxer recovers from a near-fatal car crash to get back into the ring.
CAST Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciarán Hinds
RATED R (language, nudity)
BOTTOM LINE Mildly entertaining, with an admirable performance from Hollywood hunk Eckhart as a paunchy, balding alcoholic.
It’s 1988, and junior welterweight champion Roger Mayweather is trash-talking Vinny Pazienza before a fight in “Bleed for This.” None of Mayweather’s insults really register — until he makes an unforgivable wisecrack about Boston. “Aye!” says Vinnie’s father and manager, getting to his feet. “We’re from Providence!”
A hero in his native Rhode Island, Vinny “Paz” Pazienza, also known as the Pazmanian Devil, is the real-life subject of “Bleed for This,” written and directed by Ben Younger. A scrappy fighter with inexhaustible energy, Vinny (Miles Teller) is on a losing streak when the film begins, but his biggest setback is yet to come: a car accident that breaks his neck. Doctors say he may never walk again, but Vinny thinks otherwise. He wants to fight again.
Vinny’s remarkable comeback story can make for compelling viewing. Vinny refuses the spinal fusion surgery that would impede his movement, opting instead for halo surgery, which screws a steel scaffold onto — and into — his head. (Even the doctor admits it looks “medieval.”) When Vinny is finally freed, however, fights are understandably hard to find. Nobody wants to be remembered as a killer.
Teller (“Whiplash”) works his natural charm as the high-spirited Vinny, but the star of this film is Aaron Eckhart as Vinny’s last-resort trainer, Kevin Rooney. The classically handsome Eckhart (“Sully,” “Thank You for Smoking”) completely transforms himself into a balding alcoholic with a basketball stomach and a nasal accent (Staten Island through a broken nose). Ciarán Hinds is also convincing as Vinny’s father, who has put his son in many a ring but can’t bear to watch his climactic fight against Roberto Durán (Edwin Rodriguez).
“Bleed for This” doesn’t pack the strongest emotional punch, mostly because Younger’s script never shows us much about these characters beyond our first impressions. Still, it’s an entertaining sports drama with some appealing Rhode Island color and a plain-spoken message of inspiration. In an interview, the real Vinny tells us, “If you do the thing they tell you you can’t do, then it’s done. And you realize it was always that simple.”