George Foreman (Khris Davis) is raised in the Fifth Ward of Houston, Texas by his single mother Nancy (Sonja Sohn). In trouble with the law, he eventually meets Doc Broadus (Forest Whitaker) who trains him in boxing and leads him to become the World Heavyweight Champion. However, when he suffers a series of defeats, including one to Muhammad Ali (Sullivan Jones), Foreman reevaluates his life and becomes a born-again Christian pastor...
The story of George Foreman, indeed the character himself, is an utterly fascinating one. If you've watched the excellent sports documentary, 'When We Were Kings', or Michael Mann's biopic on Muhammad Ali, Foreman is always presented as a man wrapped in a cloud of mystery. In the archival footage of 'When We Were Kings', he's taciturn with reporters, looming in the background, and his terrifying size and power are always referenced by the numerous talking heads in the documentary. In 'Ali', Mann presents Foreman as this physical force of nature. In one scene, we see him pounding a punching bag repeatedly until it leaves a permanent dent in the side of it.
'Big George Foreman' carries none of this darkness; subsequently, none of it is nearly as interesting as the man himself. George Tillman Jr. as director and one of three writers opts for hagiography instead of biography. His darkness recedes under the light of his finding religion in the middle of the second act, and the rest of the movie is devoted to Foreman's rebirth as a pastor and man of the people. His financial hardships and his community centre are presented as the reason for his stepping back in the ring at 38, and there's even a funny reference to the grill that carries his name.
It's true, Foreman has perhaps been unfairly represented on screen in the past, and his transformation from quiet destroyer to gregarious champion is one that isn't talked about nearly enough. Yet, the way in which 'Big George Foreman' plays out is so formulaic, so riddled with cliches, that none of this is able to surface. Khris Davis, meanwhile, does what he can with the limited script but it's never enough to give him any moments to dazzle. Forest Whitaker and Sonja Sohn, both of them experienced and versatile actors, do little more than deliver a motivational speech to Foreman or look anguished or delighted in the background.
Biopics, if they're to have any kind of impact, have to be able to reckon with a full life but it's how they choose to showcase it that counts. Some will zero in on a particular time and place in that person's life, while others will go for the highwire act of trying to fit it all in. Most that go for the latter end up falling over. It's impossible to condense down the kind of life that could make a movie without leaving out huge chunks of it, and in doing so, missing the kind of complexity and nuance required to make it more than just a retread of someone's Wikipedia page.
'Big George Foreman' is just that - an unimaginative and uninspired retelling of sanctioned history, betraying a deep and complex story that's begging to be told.