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Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 07:46 GMT 08:46 UK
Antonio and Woody square up
Boxers Harrelson and Banderas
Boxers Harrelson and Banderas are friends pitted against each other
By BBC News Online entertainment correspondent Tom Brook

Spanish heart-throb Antonio Banderas pulls no punches in his new movie Play it to the Bone.

Banderas plays Cesar Dominguez, a small-time boxer in California, plucked from obscurity and hurled in to a high-profile match in Las Vegas.

At very short notice Cesar finds he is pitted against his friend and sparring partner Vince Boudreau, portrayed by Woody Harrelson.

The film is a comedy with much of the action focusing on the two boxers' journey from Los Angeles to Vegas.

They travel in a car driven by Cesar's girlfriend, Grace, played by Lolita Davidovich, who also had a past romantic liaison with Vince.

The journey to Las Vegas makes the film a road movie

Although the film is part road movie and part boxing drama, Banderas says it has a deeper emotional meaning.

"It is a love story, a triangle love story, among people who are basically losing in their lives every chance that they have to be somebody," he explains.

Play it to the Bone is written and directed by veteran sports director Ron Shelton.

His past credits include the baseball films Bull Durham and Cobb, as well as the basketball picture White Men Can't Jump.

Revelations

In his latest offering, Shelton has crafted a comedy in which each of the characters has been given a distinctive back story that is revealed during the road trip.

Harrelson plays a boxer who is a born-again Christian. He says Shelton drew on a real-life boxer to create Vince.

Woody Harrelson
Harrelson's character is a born-again Christian

"He's got this fight between God and the Devil in him, so that's true of my character Vince Boudreau.

"He sees Jesus from time to time, and he really does see Jesus."

Banderas also plays a pugilist with his own distinct identity. During the road trip it becomes clear that Cesar has had a gay past.

"I think it's almost a paradox that a boxer, a guy who is supposed to be tough and an example for men, is homosexual," says Banderas.

The actor sees his character as metaphorically sparring with Vince Boudreau by revealing his sexuality.

Banderas asserts: "I know in some way I'm punching him for confessing that I have had this homosexual experience."

Jousting

En route to Vegas there are constant diversions.

Among the seemingly random occurrences is an encounter between Vince and Lia, a sexy hitchhiker played by Lucy Liu.

A constant throughout the trip is the incessant bickering of Cesar and Vince.

Banderas and Harrelson
Friendship is forgotten when they get in the ring

But the real jousting begins in Vegas with the boxing match in which the two men beat one another to a bloody pulp, and then for no apparent reason embrace one another.

Banderas says: "They fight and they hit each other to death, but when the bell sounds they are gentlemen.

"They embrace each other and are friends, and everything they did in there is forgotten - we see that continuously in sport and especially in boxing."

Distracted director

It is not giving much away to reveal that once the match is over, Vince, Cesar and Grace head back to Los Angeles, each having undergone a redemption of sorts and finding they love one another more than ever.

American critics took issue with Play it to the Bone's undeveloped plot.

This probably explains why the $24m film fared rather poorly at the box office. It took in just $9m in its domestic US run.

Lolita Davidovich and Lucy Liu
Davidovich and Liu: Along for the ride

Banderas, Harrelson and Davidovich have not been harmed by the film's lacklustre performance - they all did an adequate job with weak material.

To many, the major disappointment has been Ron Shelton who in the past has made far more entertaining and insightful sports movies.

Shelton claims boxing is his favourite sport. I can only assume that, here, a talented director's love of the ring got the better of him.

As a result he didn't pay enough attention to creating an engaging and credible story.

Play it to the Bone opens across the UK on 22 September.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Antonio Banderas
"The movie is a metaphor for life"
Woody Harrelson
"My character really does see Jesus from time to time"
See also:

08 Jan 00 | Tom Brook
Denzel's Hurricane stirs controversy
27 Jun 00 | Entertainment
Harrelson supports father's trial battle
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