- Directed by Alister Grierson
- Written by Prem Singh and Michael Pugliese
- Starring Prem Singh, Michael Pugliese and Mickey Rourke
- Classification PG
- 100 minutes
There is no great time to release a middling boxing movie, but the week after Creed II comes out is probably the worst. Granted, the low-budget drama Tiger cannot be fairly pitted against the Rocky franchise’s massive Hollywood resources. And Creed II’s Michael B. Jordan is a special effect unto himself, which no actor could hope to match.
Yet any sports film, no matter its scale or handicap, has to land its narrative and aesthetic punches – and Tiger clings to the ropes more often than not.
Terrible sports puns aside, there’s something admirable about Tiger’s genesis. The story of Ontario athlete Pardeep Singh Nagra, an aspiring Sikh boxer who faced prejudice in and out of the ring, is an inspirational one that ticks all the obvious genre boxes. And the determination of Canadian screenwriters and co-stars Prem Singh (who plays Nagra) and Michael Pugliese (Nagra’s rival) to get the movie made shouldn’t be easily discounted. Unable to find financing at home, the pair went to the United States, partnering with Los Angeles-based R3M Productions and changing Nagra’s nationality to American. Singh and Pugliese also staked out Mickey Rourke’s L.A. boxing gym, convincing the actor to play Nagra’s coach after walking up cold to the Wrestler star.
Yet Tiger is a movie that’s all mewls. Nagra is introduced as a frustrated athlete whose only trait is pent-up anger, and he remains that cipher throughout the film. There’s a treacly romance between the boxer and his lawyer (Janel Parrish) that feels shoehorned, a mid-film twist involving Rourke’s grizzled trainer that’s egregious, and a handful of stop-the-action speeches where all the film’s big themes are neatly, embarrassingly laid out. What’s worse is the boxing scenes themselves, which lack visual finesse and feel far too bloodless to be taken seriously.
I’m happy that the always interesting Rourke is getting steady work – while managing to convince producers that every scene he’s in must also feature his Pomeranian – and that Nagra’s story is now more out in the world than before. But in the best boxing movies, the hits only matter if we care for the characters delivering and enduring them. Here, any and all wounds feel superficial.
Tiger opens Nov. 30 in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Vancouver, and Surrey, B.C.