BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - When it was announced that German boxing champion Henry Maske was going to play historic heavyweight champion Max Schmeling in a biopic, another name came close to usurping the public’s attention: the film’s director, Uwe Boll, primarily known for such shoddy computer-game adaptations as “Bloodrayne” and “House of the Dead” and regularly referred to as “Germany’s answer to Ed Wood.”
Boll bashers and fans alike likely will be disappointed by the results, though, as “Max Schmeling” turns out to be a run-of-the-mill biography without the outrageous quirks, shoddy storytelling and cliche-laden plots that have made the prolific filmmaker a regular at the Razzies.
From the first moment to the last, “Max Schmeling” is excruciatingly by-the-book — or library, in this case — because it borrows heavily from many similar films. Opening with Schmeling telling his life story to a British POW, Boll — who used to eschew more staid cinematic conventions — clearly strives for a less personal approach in favor of respectability and, one might expect, mainstream success. The film opened October 7 in Germany.
Boll starts with the boxer being awarded the championship belt and goes quickly to his meet-cute wooing of and love affair with actress Anny Ondra (Susanne Wuest), his efforts at finding new, suitable opponents and the constant mingling with the rising Nazi Party. What follows also is Wikipedia 101: some successes, more mingling, the end of the war and his efforts at distancing himself from the government he despised but heavily promoted.
Boll handles this unfamiliar vampire- and scandal-free territory with remarkable restraint and clearly shows that he commands most of his craft, the notable exception being another staple of many of his films: laughable bad acting. Maske might not be the most eloquent boxer on the planet but can be personable and engaging. However, he simply turns to stone whenever the camera is pointed at him, with his dialogue as chiseled as if Moses had just carried it down to the set from Mount Sinai. It is difficult to overstate how flat his acting is, but let it suffice to say that the only variation in his performance is of a geographical nature, as he frequently switches back to his own rural dialect.
Wuest, an actress by profession, fares little better: Her Anny comes across as two-dimensional, devoid of emotion and completely inaccessible, not at all good traits for the female lead in a film that has a love story at its core.
Not that there aren’t good performances: Heino Ferch and Vladimir Weigl, as Schmeling’s trainer and manager, respectively, deliver nuanced, sometimes delightful performances but succeed in pointing out their colleagues’ flaws instead of offsetting them.
The boxing sequences, clearly favored and promoted by amateur boxer Boll in the lead-up to the release, are another disappointment. With so many pugilists involved on- and off-camera — real boxers play many of the opponents — they might be more realistic than the matches in “Raging Bull” and “Rocky,” but they’re undeniably less cinematic and nearly interchangeable.
Mathias Neumann’s camerawork and Jessica de Rooij’s score belong to a cinematic epic, which this simply is not.
Although filmed mostly in German, “Max Schmeling” might profit from dubbing or subtitling for foreign territories, which certainly would make its two leading actors less annoying and bring them more in sync with a film that is, while only mildly entertaining, clearly Boll’s most mature work.
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