Play it to the Bone

By Mark Ramsey | 2000/01/21

Is Play it to the Bone really necessary?

I mean, if the century-long history of cinema ends just before this steaming pile of silver screen refuse fans its stultifying fumes in the direction of audiences nationwide, would that be so bad?

Play it to the Bone is a boxing movie opening with two guys in two beds with two babes each. What a recruitment poster for boxing! “If you’re gonna love, wear a golden glove.” If the U.S. Army used tactics like this to sign recruits, reveille would come early and often, if you know what I’m saying.


One of these guys is Robert Wagner. Come on! RJ hasn’t man-handled a two-on-one since the year his hair stylist swapped Brylcreem for Kiwi Brown shoe polish. RJ’s head is so buffed, glossed, and spit-polished, traffic choppers mistake the glare for a star on the walk of fame. What’s that natural tint, RJ, spice or berry? Oh, we’ll never know.

Play it to the Bone is the latest from sports-obsessed writer/director Ron Shelton. Ron’s made movies about basketball, golf, and now boxing. Can synchronized swimming be far behind?

This is also the latest in the proud tradition of road pictures. “There have been any number of road films that take place between L.A. and Las Vegas,” says Shelton, “but none of them ever really show the road.” Excellent point, Ron! Maybe that’s because that particular road is short on twists, turns, and dramatic arcs, not to mention scenery. As a result, dialogue leans on “geological striations,” tapping that rich vein of earth science comedy familiar to any fan of the Discovery Channel Comedy Jam.

Fresh from the fast lane between Vegas and obscurity, Lolita Davidovich joins Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas. It’s two washed up fighters and the woman who loved them hopping into her bad-ass, lime-green 1972 Olds convertible muscle-car for the trek to Sin City. Okay, it’s not lime-green, it’s “sassy-grass” green, says Lolita. Look, I don’t care if it’s Lorne Greene, it’s still a yawner. Aren’t there any signs on the route to Vegas reading “Wrong Way, Go Back”?


“It smells like freedom,” says Lolita as she sniffs her fresh-checked motor oil. True enough, if your freedom has a viscosity rating of 10W-30 and is deadly to wildlife when a tanker full of it hits a rock.

Woody and Antonio are welterweight boxers, although they look more like paper-weights to me, maybe water-weights depending on their cycles.

And after a lengthy commute to Vegas, Woody and Antonio proceed to beat the bloody hell out of each other for most of hour two. Meanwhile, five minutes into the fight you can tell how it’s going to go. And you can tell you don’t care.

What a pounding these guys take! And I don’t just mean the audience. After nine rounds, Woody’s brow takes on Boris Karloffian proportions and Antonio’s blubbery face resembles a Tommy Lee Jones life-mask. Any more head-swelling and these two could body-double for UFO crash victims.

A keen eye will spot supporting player Richard Masur, who cleverly leveraged bit parts like Tom Cruise’s Princeton recruiter in Risky Business into the pole position at the Screen Actor’s Guild. Richard’s back in the acting trenches now that he’s been succeeded at SAG by William Daniels, a.k.a. Kit the Knight Rider car. Be on the lookout for a new Knight Rider movie, where Kit becomes the most celebrated Pontiac Firebird ever to negotiate more equitable commercial residuals for SAG members. Check the bumper sticker: “I brake for collective bargaining.” Righteous, Kit!

“Playing it to the bone” means “giving it all you’ve got,” or at least giving it as much as you’ve got to work with, and that’s not too much here.

Everyone who owes director/writer Shelton a favor is pictured here. You got Costner, you got Snipes, you got Tony Curtis, you got Buddy Greco, you got Steve and Edie. You’ve got that slot machine and it’s your slot machine and you’re the Sultan of Slots and if anybody tries to steal it you’re going to kick their ass with your disgusting, coin-black fingers.

From the first word of dialogue to final cut, creating Play it to the Bone took a measly six months. This movie doesn’t belong in the theater, it belongs in prenatal intensive care, wired to an IV and locked in an oxygen tent! Call me when it’s old enough to breast-feed.

Rocky it ain’t, but “rocky” it is.

In this corner, Oscar De La Ho-Hum.


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