Fox's "Ali: An American Hero," scheduled to be aired Thursday night, is a solid, respectable biopic focusing on the religious convictions of the living legend.
Effectively working in and out of the ring, writer Jamal Joseph and director Leon Ichaso open their forthright film as the ever-quotable Ali (David Ramsey) trains for "the Rumble in the Jungle," his famed 1974 championship bout in Zaire against formidable George Foreman.
Instead of simply rehashing the major matches in Ali's career, Joseph concentrates on his conversion to the Nation of Islam when he was known to the world as Olympic gold medalist Cassius Clay. The key catalyst is Malcolm X (played with quiet dignity by Joe Morton), who persuades the acclaimed athlete he would be better served by praising Allah. That controversial and unpopular decision nearly cost Ali a bout with Sonny Liston, whom he defeated for his first title.
"Hero" covers a wide canvas, grappling with racism, the assassination of JFK, Vietnam, Ali's daring draft evasion on religious grounds and his two marriages. Boxing takes a back seat to these significant events, which may disappoint fight fans anticipating extensive action.
The Fox network has rated it TV-14-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence).
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