In life nothing is more pure than the sweet science of effortlessly bad Italian filmmaking! Relentlessly pummeling the viewer with its English-as-a-third-or-fourth-language level dialogue, jabbing with its cast of faded legends, has beens, bimbos, and talentless dudes vaguely recognized from other horrid Roman roundups before finally delivering the knockout blow with a deadly combination of awful songs, punch-drunk plot, and laughably over-the-top action, movies like The Opponent easily fill the undercard of your pointless life.
Though one is tempted to pass up The Opponent and its potentially dull honest boxer vs. crooked promoter storyline, even a cursory glance at the VHS box for the U.S. release will convince you otherwise.
First of all it stars Ernest Borgnine and Daniel Greene! Ernie is most famous for winning an Oscar and then going on to do time in Italian monuments to easy paydays like The Last Match, Treasure Island in Outer Space, and Super Snooper.
Daniel is probably not famous for also appearing in pretty much all of director Sergio Martino‘s late 80s-early/90s movies such as After the Condor, American Rickshaw, and Beyond Kilimanjaro, Across the River of Blood.
Secondly, the video box announces that what we are about to see is an “explosive blood-splattered saga in the tradition of Rocky and Raging Bull.” That sounds great, but what if I thought everything in Rocky and Raging Bull except the parts where guys get hit in the face was lame?
Don’t worry! Unlike Raging Bull, The Opponent is not in black and white! That makes it about 1000 colors better than Raging Bull!
And remember Rocky’s annoyingly crotchety manager? It took that old geezer how many sequels to die? In The Opponent, Bobby’s manager not only dies, but is forced to drink a gallon of rubbing alcohol, then chucked into the ocean in what is ingeniously engineered to look like a drunken fishing accident! And you know what that means! Title fight death dedication!
It’s easy though to build a case for The Opponent being better than a pair of overrated Hollywoodized boxing epics. Hell, any Italian movie has a puncher’s chance of that!
The real test though is whether you can still enjoy all its kick ass even if you haven’t seen those other wimpy pugilistic pictures. Damn, does the ref need to stop this fight or something? Are you suffering from some sort of dementia? All this movie does is rabbit punch you right in the feel-goodies for 90 minutes!
Bobby’s just a dumb lunk who wants to be a fighter! Just how dumb is he? When he gets into a fight with a couple of drunks while trying to clean up the bar he works at because they dumped some toothpicks on the floor, he beats the piss out of them and simultaneously manages to make an exponentially bigger mess than they ever imagined doing!
I suppose you could also say that Bobby screwing his promoter/gangster’s girlfriend before he had his title fight was pretty dumb as well, but the mess the bar fight caused was surely a more obvious consequence than having your right hand repeatedly crushed with an iron bar by the gangster’s goons when he refused to throw a fight to pay for his cheating ways!
Bobby though might be forgiven for being seduced by Gilda, the gangster’s moll, since his personal life was in turmoil. He has a girl that he really loves named Anne and she really loves him, but there’s just one problem – her dad!
Borgnine plays the father who hates fighters! In fact, he hates fighters so much that when he sees Bobby at his grocery store, he taunts him, punches him a couple of times and even slaps him!
Bobby responds by punching Borgnine right through a bunch of produce back into 1955 when he won the Academy Award for his role in Marty! For some reason, Anne then breaks up with Bobby.
Not to worry though because Borgnine watches one of Bobby’s fights and becomes convinced that he isn’t a bad person after all. It probably didn’t hurt any that Borgnine won a bunch of money on the fight, too.
He signs up as Bobby’s trainer for the title fight, reveals why he despises boxers (some gibberish about how his wife saved him from becoming a vegetable), and gets involved in the final training montage.
As in the case of most title fights though, Bobby’s girlfriend gets herself kidnapped by the gangster thus setting up the dramatic conclusion on the docks! Hey, this is an Italian movie – you didn’t think it would just end with Bobby winning the title bout did you?
Martino thankfully gets everyone’s worst in this one! Star Daniel Greene demonstrates a stultifyingly wooden technique that would have been dismissed as too stiff and unnatural for an old Hercules movie while Italian film icon Giuliano Gemma (The Scalawag Bunch, Arizona Colt, A Pistol For Ringo) is dapper and frequently unintelligible as the evil promoter.
And how about Bobby’s girlfriend Anne? Keely Shaye Smith would go on to gain fame for becoming Pierce Brosnan’s second wife and putting on a bunch of weight!
But it is Borgnine who dominates every scene he is in. The impressive array of ugly shirts he wears, many of them with horizontal stripes which only served to further amplify how horribly bloated he was, couldn’t help but capture the viewer’s undivided attention whenever they appeared! The fact that these shirts were almost certainly from Ernest’s own wardrobe only adds to the authentic terribleness that makes The Opponent a winner by unanimous decision!
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