Born a Champion seems incapable of providing us with anything except the same, old thing we’ve seen before and better. This is another of those movies about an aging veteran of a certain sport and his fight to regain some dignity after a debilitating injury ended his career too soon. The screenplay by Sean Patrick Flanery and director Alex Ranarivelo is as simple as can be – to a fault, in fact. Every character falls into a type, and every arc enjoyed by that character is plainly telegraphed from the moment they appear onscreen.

The entire arc of the story, in fact, is as familiar as they come. Mickey (Flanery) is a professional practitioner of the Brazilian modification of jujutsu, that mixed martial art in which each participant’s ultimate goal is to trap the body of his opponent without the aid of weaponry. He has agreed to stage a fight in Dubai, but before he attends a meal with the local sheik (Ali Afshar), he meets Layla (Katrina Bowden), a sex worker who has flown in to service a big meathead client named Dimitris (Costas Mandylor).

Layla, by the way, is the first red flag of a screenplay that simply doesn’t know what to do with a woman’s presence in such a macho arena. Not even trying to compensate for this, Flanery and Ranarivelo simply plug her into the role of the worried wife and the damsel in distress, before the cruelty of the plot decides, in a very final way, to make her a source of third-act drama that completely betrays Bowden (who is, it must be said, giving a valiant attempt at a good performance in a role of total inconsequentiality).

Anyway, the fight goes horribly awry for Mickey, who is left with a detached retina in one eye and a broken eye socket holding the other. With loss of sight imminent, if he were to do anything to upset the careful job of the doctors to fix the damage, Mickey enters a period of depressive loneliness at the loss of the only thing he knows how to do. He becomes sempai, then, to a douchebag of a jujutsu instructor (Chris Boudreaux), but at least Layla has stalked him to his old shop, where his friend Rosco (Maurice Compte) also serves as the film’s narrator for reasons that must either be seen or, depending on one’s attitude about the deus ex machina tied to that framing device, ignored.

Obviously, Mickey doesn’t stop practicing or teaching or, really, any of the activities that he was warned he should not do. He and Layla have a son and develop bills to pay, and then he gets a new job at a bar where, of course, handsy patrons harassing a young woman allows him to find another reason to fight people. In other words, it rather sounds like Mickey is a personification of the toxic male stereotype that, by 2021, movies should have discarded.

Eventually, that fateful fight comes back to haunt him. Attentive viewers of a video of the match discover that Mickey’s opponent disqualified the match entirely, and a redo is demanded by the general public. One might anticipate that Layla will have An Opinion about this, but then the movie finds the most melodramatic way possible to assure that she does not and to arrive at the Big Fight, executed by Ranarivelo with as little style or motivation as possible.

The screenplay does attempt to touch upon the outside world just a little bit, such as casting Dennis Quaid in an extended cameo as a fight promoter with a surprising connection to Mickey’s military past. Flanery, though, makes for something of a milquetoast lead, performing the role with little passion (surprising, considering the actor, like his character, has a black belt in a Brazilian jujutsu). There is little passion and only the familiar found in the whole of Born a Champion, too.

Summary
Born a Champion seems incapable of providing us with anything except the same, old thing we’ve seen before and better.
40 %
Tired Fight
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