The Big Mac Blog

“Manny” documentary is a jab, not a knockout

Manny Pacquiao attends the Los Angeles Premiere of “Manny” at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Tuesday.
Manny Pacquiao attends the Los Angeles Premiere of “Manny” at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Tuesday. Rob Latour/Invision/AP

He has not had a compelling fight in recent years, and we are all hoping he actually steps in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, so now the most interesting place to see Manny Pacquiao perform is on the biggest of screens.

From the director who made the Academy Award winning documentary “When We Were Kings” comes, “Manny” an all-access look at the life of prize-fighting champion Manny Pacquiao. The man is but 5-foot-6, but today he is one of the most recognized athletes in the world despite boxing’s fallen stature to niche status.

This new 88-minute film is narrated by Liam Neeson, himself a former fighter, and features interviews with boxing-loving celebs such as Jimmy Kimmel, Mark Wahlberg and Jeremy Piven. The documentary is slick, well shot, and it features a slew of behind-the-scenes look at Pacquiao’s crowded life and everyone in his vast inner circle.

It’s a nice movie about a nice guy who carries with him the weight on an entire poor nation. There is more there, but the film doesn’t grab any one particular area and hit it. It instead dances and jabs.

The opening scene is highlights of Pacquiao’s upset loss to Juan Manuel Marquez when he was knocked out in December of 2012. It is a gripping way to start the movie that never regains this sort of captivity after this sequence. Directors Leon Gast and Ryan Moore touch on everything, but don’t go too deep in any of it.

The film races through Pacquiao’s upbringing to his rise as a multi-belt champion in six weight classes to his role as an elected congressman in the Philippines, who is waiting for his chance to fight Mayweather.

The problem for Gast, who did “When We Were Kings”, is that Pacquiao is just a sweet, nice and funny guy who comes from a level of incomprehensible poverty. The Pac Man does not provide the type of compelling element that Gast had for “Kings”, a wonderful re-visiting of the Ali-Foreman fight in 1974 in Zaire. Manny is funny when he tries to sing or play basketball, but it’s not riveting theatre.

The film works when he visits what remains of his childhood home in the Philippines. Manny was dead broke as a kid, and to see what he came from is inspiring. But the film only glances at this. The film also works when it features footage of Manny’s younger days in the ring, up to and including HBO broadcaster Jim Lampley’s inability to pronounce his name correctly. It’s a reminder that before Manny became one of the biggest sports figures in the world he was a nobody with an impossible name to pronounce.

The film misses when the many people who survive because of Pacquiao, from his promoter to his trainers and strength coaches, all complain that people are trying to exploit him and not taking care of him properly. There is so much more there to delve and explore but the film elects to hit on everything else, too.

The film misses when it only briefly flirts with the other rough edges of his story that make him real, and surreal - his popularity in his native Phillipines makes it nearly impossible for him to move. He has been accused of using Perfomance Enhacing Drugs to jump weight classes, and his marriage has survived despite the difficulties that come from such wealth and popularity - namely, other women. There is so much more there, but this is all we get.

Like most international sports stars, he became a household name because he seldom loses. “Manny” points out that Pacquiao is a great fighter, and when he is in the ring he is compelling. The rest, as far as this movie goes, only jabs and moves.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @macengelprof