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Big George Foreman punches above its weight as a Christian movie

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, April 28th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: a new faith-based sports bio-pic. Arts and Culture editor Collin Garbarino now has a review of Big George Foreman.

COLLIN GARBARINO: So far, 2023 has set a new standard for faith-based films. I’ve found myself saying over and over again that this or that Christian movie has improved on the filmmaking quality of the faith-based genre. Last weekend was the first time since Jesus Revolution came out in February that a Christian movie didn’t make it into the top ten at the box office. But debuting today, the faith-based film Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion plans to pack a punch at theaters.

GEORGE FOREMAN: My life started in the Fifth Ward in Houston. Those were some of the toughest streets in all of Texas.

Big George Foreman tells the story of the boxing legend, beginning with his impoverished youth when his mother Nancy struggled to get enough food on the table. But in spite of the family’s poverty and George’s tendency to get in trouble, Nancy has faith that her son can make something of himself.

NANCY FOREMAN: Look at me. You got more inside than what you’re showin’.

GEORGE FOREMAN: I know it, Mom.

While in a government job training program, George meets Doc Broadus, played by the fantastic Forest Whitaker. Doc introduces George to boxing, becoming his trainer and mentor.

DOC BROADUS: See what I just did there? The mind controls the body, not the other way around. In every battle, the greatest foe we will combat is in here.

Doc knows George will make a great fighter one day, and he’s got a plan for turning George into a champion.

BROADUS: Listen to me, George. You’ve got a punch like I’ve never seen. But even if you train harder than any man has ever trained, there is no way you can make it to the Olympics next year.

But of course George does make it to the Olympics and he becomes the fastest rising star in the boxing world, leading to a shot at the title.

HOWARD COSELL: Here we are for the heavy-weight championship fight between Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Boxing success doesn’t necessarily solve George’s problems. The movie shows George’s pride and fear and anger with the world. We see someone who’s made something of himself, but still hungers for worldly approval that will never satisfy.

Throughout the first half of the movie, we see George struggle against his mother’s faith in God.

NANCY FOREMAN: Let’s thank God for the food first, y’all.

GEORGE FOREMAN: God? I bought the food, Mama. Not God. [laughs]

But George’s attitude and his life change after a near-death experience in the locker room after a fight. George becomes convinced of the truth of Christianity. He starts attending church. And he turns his life around.

GEORGE FOREMAN: I want to give my life to God.

No more boxing for George Foreman. In 1977, at the age of 28, he retires from fighting, and focuses on his church work and community outreach.

But that’s not the end of George Foreman’s pretty crazy story. Ten years later, a decidedly older and more rotund Foreman mounts a boxing comeback that would be too difficult to believe if it weren’t true.

Big George Foreman is an engaging sports biopic about a larger than life character. Khris Davis gives a credible performance as Big George. He’s especially good in the first half of the movie when playing angry George. Davis’s joyful Christian George comes across as a bit of a caricature, but to be fair, the real-life George Foreman sometimes seems a little bit like a caricature.

Big George Foreman is rated PG-13 for sports violence, and there are allusions to Foreman’s sins as he lives a worldly life. But the changed life brought about by Christian faith is definitely at the center of this film. And I give the movie bonus points for actually focusing on Jesus rather than offering vague notions of God that we sometimes get in faith-based films.

GEORGE FOREMAN: I was in the dressing room, and Jesus Christ came alive in me.

Sometimes, however, the Christian message didn’t feel integrated into the whole narrative. The movie attempts to portray Foreman’s return to the ring as God’s calling on his life, but I was never totally convinced. Sure I was pulling for Big George, but I never felt the intimate connection between religious experience and sporting spirit that I do in say Chariots of Fire. Also, I noticed the movie conveniently omits the three failed marriages Foreman went through after his conversion.

Despite these minor quibbles, I enjoyed Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion. The title’s a bit of a mouthful, so I’ll just call it a winner.

COSELL: George Foreman is the new heavy-weight champion of the world.

I’m Collin Garbarino.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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