Would this be the first "real" film that Uwe Boll has made? His first work that critics will take serious and that will bestow upon him the glory and acclaim that he, as Boll keeps saying, deserves? Perhaps even his first good movie? Well no, miracles don't come so quick or cheap. Making film is like any other sport: you can only learn to the limit of your potential. Eventually you have to acknowledge that you'll never make it into the big league, that you "don't have it in you" and will spend your boxing days in the amateur league. Pardon my French, but there's just no way to turn manure into gold. But let's not loose too many words on the "German Ed Wood"; enough bile and vitriol has run down that creek already.
Max Schmeling is the Mohammed Ali of German boxing, a sporting legend and often fingered as one of the few German celebrities that stayed "decent" in the times of Adolf Hitler and the NS-Regime (he refused to rat out neither against his Jewish manager nor his "non-Aryan" wife and retained a friendship with the colored boxer Joe Louis). He was a heavy weight world champion, used as an icon, was eventually discarded by the propaganda machine, sent to the front as gun fodder when he outgrew his use and remained a popular figure in the German media until his death in 2005, at the respectable age of 99.
We may never find out why Uwe Boll saw himself the man to make a movie about this iconic figure – we can only speculate that it was because he once was a semi-professional boxer himself and used to beat his critics to a pulp in boxing matches. Nor will we ever find out why nobody prevented him from doing so; then again, that's Germany for you. The American reader may imagine that the makers of "Epic Movie", undeniably the un-funniest spoof-film in history, having a go at a Cassius Clay / Mohammed Ali biopic and than imagine the public outrage among movie-fans and boxing-aficionados. Unfortunately there was no such outrage among the complaisant German citizens and nobody stopped Boll from producing this film.
It's really not so different from any other Uwe Boll movie: it's shoddily produced, sweats incompetence from every pore – yes, it's like gleefully watching a duo of drunks performing the Wilhelm Tell routine. Where other directors may try out new angles or approaches, Boll shoots straight as an arrow, telling the story from A to Z; like a 3rd Grader writing an essay on "how I spent my summer".
Let's talk about the acting. Well, there is preciously little. Protagonist Henry Maske (himself a former champion turned socialite) is neither a trained actor nor does he have much natural talent. Seeing a wounded Schmeling / Maske lying in a sickbay, asking for a glass of water in his broad Saxony accent (his first line) is enough to animate the audience to some mischievous giggle. A block of wood has more charisma and skill and so we have to watch Maske stumble from scene to scene, always on the lookout for the camera, as if asking for aid from the director which never came. To his credit, Boll was clever enough never to let his star recite more than three or four sentences in one go. Just imagine a young Arnold Schwarzenegger – no, not the Shakespearean presentation of "Conan the Barbarian" or "Terminator" but rather "Hercules in New York and the "Streets of San Francisco", episode "Dead Lift".
To give credit where credit is due: Heino Ferch, best known for playing Albert Speer in 2002s "Downfall – Der Untergang", gives a solid performance, playing Schmelings trainer Max Machon. The rest of the cast: the people playing the fighters, Joe Louis and Richard Vogt, are all real-life boxers who have as much skill and talent as Maske – I'm talking acting, not boxing. The other actors have been assembled from German television and generally, if they were working in Hollywood, would qualify for non-speaking roles only (or perhaps a Quentin Tarantino film).
As an ex-boxer and working with ex-boxing champions, one could have hoped that at least the fight-scenes would catch a glimpse of magic. They are invariably ruined by the director's general inability. Take a look at the boxing matches in films like "Rocky" or "Raging Bull" – they are everything that the fights in "Schmeling" aren't. To give due credit, the fights are choreographed decently but the energy and drama isn't half of what Boll must have 'envisioned'.
Boll has one trait that is considered very typical German: no matter what he does, he does it with the utter seriousness. Every scene, every edit, every nuance is a desperate cry for being taken serious as a film-maker. The cries generally remain unanswered.
For anybody interested in the story of Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, I recommend the 2002 film "Joe and Max", which is – despite featuring Till Schweiger (the acting equivalent to director Boll) – the infinitely better film.
I'll give it three stars out of ten: one for Heino Ferch, one for the memory of Max Schmeling and one out of pity.