Bronx native Jaden Miller, 24, could’ve had a better life, but fighting within a prestigious school cost his scholarship and an expulsion. Now a high school dropout working from job to job, evicted with nowhere to call home, he decides to train as a boxer under discredited trainer Duane Taylor. The local PBS station picks up on the story and wants to document Jaden’s progress as he becomes slated to take on the champion, James Burchard, an undefeated boxer of less-than-appealing character. Jaden’s mom, Jada (ailing from a heart condition), sees no good in this, as it was fighting that so far ruined his life, but Duane sees within Jaden an it factor that could make him great.
User Reviews: Jaden Miller (Kent Moran) is a mechanic who lives in the Bronxs with his mother Jada (S. Epatha Merkerson). Both Jaden and his mother have little money and are faced with the threat of eviction, but Jaden sees an opportunity to rid his family of their financial woes and decides to take up boxing. Jaden strikes up a friendship with Duane (Michael Clarke Duncan) a boxing coach who refuses to train ‘rookies’. Duane is initially cynical of Jaden, but when he witnesses Jaden’s dedication and determination he continues coaching him all the way up to the top where Jaden eventually faces off against the world champion.
With The Challenger what you’re basically seeing is another reworking of Rocky with Jaden going through the same basic motions; a rookie boxer working his way to the top and defying the odds by getting that elusive title shot. Anyone who has seen the Rocky films (or practically any boxing film) will have seen this all before and the picture really does offer no real surprises. Despite this though, I have to admit that I still found the film watchable and despite the predictable plot turns I still found the story to be fairly engaging. Moran’s writing & directing is pretty good and the film is fairly balanced and well-paced.
One problem I did have with this film is that it is lacking in intensity; I quite liked this film, but it didn’t stir up the same emotion in me as Rocky did or many other boxing themed films. I just didn’t feel much passion for Jaden and his cause and for that reason I just couldn’t get behind him and his cause as much as I should have done. In fact, when the film ended it’s a film that I respected and admired, but could never really grow to love.
As Jaden’s mother, Jada behaves in typical ‘motherly fashion’. She’s mortified about Jaden’s new career choice and does her best to talk him out of it, but then when he’s at the top she couldn’t be more proud. This is nice to see (even if her sudden acceptance of him being a boxer seems a bit contrived). This is all OK, but Moran overdoes things in this respect by giving Duane and Jaden’s mother a past – which is just manipulative and unnecessary and also the flashbacks when Jaden hits the canvas in his title match are examples of Moran trying too hard to force emotion onto his audience.
I’ve been quite harsh on this film, but in all honesty it really isn’t that bad. The pacing is good and Moran’s story is serviceable – the only part that I thought was a bit silly was when the crew were following Jaden around ‘documentary style’. I can only assume that Moran introduced this into the story to inject some originality – it also seemed terribly convenient how quickly this aspect of the story was dropped as well. Moran’s directing and writing are OK, but his acting wasn’t great and he really should have given more of a heart to the picture. The Challenger is notable for being Michael Clarke Duncan’s last film and in typical fashion the big man doesn’t disgrace himself and puts in another solid performance.
RIP Michael Clarke Duncan.