A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Born a Champion is a 2021 is a sports drama in which a mixed-martial arts fighter gets the chance for a rematch against the champion who cheated against him the first time. Expect a lot of mixed-martial arts violence -- violent beat downs resulting in blood and bruised faces at best, debilitating and life-altering injuries at worst. A bar fight results in blood and bruises. One of the characters is killed in a car accident. Talk of how the lead character's father committed suicide after killing his mother. Constant profanity, including "f--k" and "motherf---er." Latino and homophobic slurs used. A martial arts instructor puts down mixed-martial arts fighting as "gay wrestling s--t." Drinking in a bar, and two friends share beers on a front porch. Talk of prostitution.
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What's the story?
In BORN A CHAMPION, Mickey Kelley (Sean Patrick Flanery) is a former Marine and Gulf War vet who has arrived in Dubai in 1992. He trains a sheikh's kids, and rescues Layla (Katrina Bowden), a woman he met on the flight over, from a prostitution scam, and when both return to America, they discover that they've fallen in love with each other. They soon get married and have a child, and to ensure that their son gets all the things Mickey never had from his parents, he agrees to fight in an MMA competition in Dubai. While Mickey easily dispenses with his first two opponents, his third opponent cheats to win, and Mickey suffers a beating that almost leaves him blind in one eye. Six years later, video footage of the fight leaks on the internet, showing that Kelley was beaten because his opponent, the now-legendary champion Marco Blaine, clearly cheated. As the video goes viral, Kelley lives in obscurity with his wife and child and works as a bar bouncer and custodian at a martial arts dojo. He's soon found by old friends, who tell him of the growing interest in a rematch. Once again, Kelley sees this as a chance to ensure a better life for his son, and agrees, much to Layla's dismay. But when tragedy at home strikes, Kelley grows even more determined to ferociously train, return to Dubai, and defeat the opponent who wronged him, no matter the possible consequences to his health.
Is it any good?
Some movies, despite their shortcomings, are so earnest and so much a "passion project," they're difficult to dislike. Born a Champion is one of those movies, one that's as much a tribute to the rise of MMA fighting in the 1990s and early 2000s as it is an "underdog" movie in the tradition of Rocky. Structured as a quasi-documentary with flashbacks, the movie tells the story of the legend of Mickey Kelley, who emerged in the sport at a time when MMA was deplored by the US Senate (footage of the late Senator John McCain, as well as a strange scene in which a body double of McCain is at a urinal speaking ill of the sport to an MMA promoter played by Dennis Quaid) for being too violent, and the internet was in its infancy. Along this track, the story, with some twists and lengthy backstories, follows the Rocky storyline, so much so that it's pretty easy to imagine that the movie's elevator pitch was "Rocky, but with MMA."
That said, will those who aren't fans of MMA enjoy this? Or, more broadly, will fans of the scrappy underdog sports movie, replete with setbacks and montages and galore, enjoy this? The answer is a resounding maybe. As the movie progresses, the "passion project" aspect of this starts to overwhelm. It's like the filmmakers really, really want you to know that Mickey has been through some stuff. As if nearly losing his vision in a championship fight lost to a cheating opponent isn't enough, or being a blue-collar dad who want a better life for his young son isn't enough, we learn what happened to Mickey during the Gulf War, and what happened with his parents, and if that's not enough, it gets even worse. It gets so much worse, it's easy to want to tap out to just say "OK, we get it! He's had a tough life and we want him to win this fight!" But in the MMA canon of films, this will be a classic for the fans of the sport and for those who appreciate the sport's long, hard climb to international success on par with the other professional sports.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Born a Champion is tribute to mixed-martial arts fighting. Did you learn anything new about the sport? How could you learn more?
Do you think people who aren't fans of MMA can enjoy this movie? Why or why not?
How is this similar to and different from other sports movies centered on a "comeback kid" or "underdog?"
- On DVD or streaming: January 22, 2021
- Cast: Katrina Bowden, Dennis Quaid, Sean Patrick Flanery
- Director: Alex Ranarivelo
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: 'anguage throughout.
- Last updated: January 23, 2021
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