In 2017, “I, Tonya” told the Tonya Harding tale with a flashy triple axel of comedy, drama and sports, turning a true-crime biopic into an Academy Award for Allison Janney.
This weekend, the same writer/producer Steven Rogers reunites with director Craig Gillespie to tackle the controversial Mike Tyson story in the Hulu miniseries “Mike,” which might be catnip for boxing fans but is way too rushed to do the complex story justice.
Tyson punched back at Hulu by posting on Instagram in February: “Hulu’s announcement to do an unauthorized mini-series of the Tyson story without compensation, although unfortunate, isn’t surprising.” He reiterated it this month by posting: “Don’t let Hulu fool you. I don’t support their story about my life. They stole my life story and didn’t pay me.”
Set within the framing device of Tyson’s recent stage tour, the eight-episode series flashes back to different chapters of his life. We see his troubled Brooklyn childhood, introduction to boxing in juvenile jail and undefeated streak as the youngest heavyweight champion of the world before his downward spiral into prison and a failed ear-biting comeback.
“Moonlight” alum Trevante Rhodes is inspired casting as Iron Mike, capturing his signature lisp, high-pitched voice and raw, mangled vocabulary. Within the first few minutes, Rhodes recreates Tyson’s infamous rant: “My style is impetuous, my defense is impregnable, and I’m just ferocious. I want your heart! I want to eat his children! Praise be to Allah!”
That delivery feels like a caricature compared to the actual footage that we remember watching in real time on “SportsCenter.” However, as the series progresses, Rhodes quickly settles in, sculpting a chiseled physique for in-ring action and sporting a gold tooth and face tattoo in his later years, giggling to a live audience rooting for his redemption.
Surrounding him are influential figures who sculpt Tyson for good and for ill. The former is provided by Harvey Keitel (“Mean Streets”), who is virtually unrecognizable with his skinny frame as Tyson’s beloved trainer and father figure Cus D’Amato. The latter is provided by Russell Hornsby (“Fences”), who is a dead ringer for manipulative promotor Don King.
We also meet the women used and abused by Tyson. Laura Harrier (“BlackKKlansman”) plays ex-wife Robin Givens, who claimed domestic violence during an infamous Barbara Walters interview in 1988, while Li Eubanks (“All Rise”) plays Desiree Washington, the pageant contestant who sent Tyson to prison as a convicted rapist from 1992 to 1995.
While the credits provide toll-free hotlines for victims, it’s hard to cram such heavy material into 30-minute episodes. After all, “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson” (2016) unfolded over 10 episodes (45 to 60 minutes each), while the Tyson trial wraps in 20 minutes. The result is a rushed experience, covering too much ground in too little time.
Compounding the rushed feeling are too many unnecessary timeline jumps. It’s totally fine to cut back to the framing device of Tyson’s stage tour like a modern-day Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” (1980), but it becomes distracting when we break the chronology to jump back and forth between his matches, intercutting childhood fist-fights with adult knockouts.
In a genre of, “Cut me, Mick,” you’ll wish someone told these filmmakers, “Cut less, Mike.”
We critics were only given the first five episodes to review, so there are still three more rounds to score before the judges’ decision. So far, I see a fighter that’s so amped up that he rushes into the ring and exerts so much energy that he forgets to breathe. That said, I did watch the first five episodes all in one sitting, so it’s gotta be compelling in its own way.
The direction by Gillespie, Tiffany Johnson and Director X features slow-motion punches with spit flying and cheeks contorting. Wobbly cameras are rigged to the boxers’ bodies like “Requiem for a Dream” (2000) trying to answer the 10-count. This is accompanied by upbeat DMX or Scorsese-style rock ‘n roll as a counterpoint to the pugilistic brutality.
Rushed job or not, it’s worth a watch for Tyson aficionados, who know most of the details already but might find rare revelations. Growing up, I thought Tyson was removed from Nintendo’s “Punch Out” because of his criminal troubles, but the show reminds us that Nintendo dropped him after his upset loss to Buster Douglas — no longer invincible.
Don’t worry, Mike. Little Mac doesn’t wake up in a cold sweat thinking about “Mr. Dream;” his nightmares are about Iron Mike. A whole generation shares these nightmares, and these gamers have become filmmakers. Why take our time when we can jump ahead with a cheat code we’ve memorized by heart like a bunch of masochists? 007-373-5963.