When boxing was the dominant combat sport, George Foreman was more than a champion. He was an American original. His success story transcended fighting because he enjoyed an unprecedented second act that brought him more fame than when he was in his athletic prime. 

Chances are you’re familiar with one of the three: George Foreman, the boxer. George Foreman, the preacher. George Foreman, the grill. His unlikely journey changed his image from a menace into a pop culture sensation. No one could have predicted this path which is why he’s the subject of this latest biopic. 

You want to love Big George Foreman. You really do, because of its earnest storytelling and also, because of the real Foreman’s charisma. Today, the 74-year-old exudes grandfatherly warmth. However, it takes more than good vibes to portray a luminary.

Big George Foreman has heart, but it’s primarily a swing-and-miss. There is never any real sense of drama or stakes. Instead, we get a narrative that bobs and weaves from one scene to the next before we have a chance to connect with the characters or gain a deeper understanding of their motivations. 

This is the rare 2-hour-plus film that could have benefited from an extra 30 minutes to establish more tension and character development. George Foreman has had a big life. Give the man a big movie.

If you entered a lab and created an ideal heavyweight, he would look like Foreman: 6-foot-4, 220 pounds at his peak to 260 later in his career with anvils for hands. A boxer once said being punched by Foreman was like “getting hit by a big Mack truck at 50 mph.”

Big George Foreman establishes the protagonist as a poor, hungry, and angry young man. But it never really delves into the truth behind his hostility. You don’t get a handle on what demons are plaguing him, except in one scene when he’s picked on at school during lunchtime. His method of conflict resolution is, of course, using his fists. He beats up the bully. It’s a decent scene, but one moment like that doesn’t fuel a lifetime of aggression.

At this point, you know where the movie is going. A fatherly figure teaches Foreman (played by Khris Davis) how to channel his fury constructively by boxing. Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker takes on the role of Doc Broadus, Forman’s mentor and trainer. Whitaker is this film’s most famous actor, but you could have gotten anybody for this part. It’s an archetype we’ve seen in countless features.

Like a music biopic, the ebbs and flows hit familiar notes. There’s the rise to the heavyweight championship when he defeated Joe Frazier. It produced Howard Cosell’s iconic call: “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” There’s the fall when he was knocked out by Muhammad Ali in The Rumble in the Jungle which remains legendary for Ali’s gutsy rope-a-dope strategy. There’s the comeback when a 45-year-old Foreman shocked the world by beating Michael Moorer, 26, to become the oldest heavyweight champion. 

Foreman was a hero to every bald, middle-aged guy with a paunch. Big George Foreman does an adequate job of showing his highlights and lowlights. There’s also ample time devoted to Foreman’s spiritual journey to becoming an ordained minister. Foreman routinely credits his faith for helping him turn his life around.

What stands out the most in Big George Foreman is what is omitted. There is almost no mention of the George Foreman Grill. The audience gets one line acknowledging its existence. That’s like making a Michael Jordan film and barely talking about Air Jordans.

The George Foreman Grill was a late 1990s/early 2000s cooking revolution, similar to what air fryers are today. Everyone had one, and it made Foreman even wealthier. He told AARP he earned as much as $8 million a month from sales

Leaving this out of Big George Foreman is an odd misstep by director George Tillman Jr. (The Hate U Give). Perhaps Foreman didn’t want this in the movie, but why ignore such a cultural phenomenon? More people might recognize Foreman today for his grill than his fighting. 

Foreman achieved success as a boxer, a preacher, and a pitchman. Big George Foreman should have captured all three elements of his amazing life.  

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant.