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Movie review: 'The Fighter' starring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale

The fighting isn't just in the ring in 'The Fighter,' as Mark Wahlberg's working-class boxer 'Irish' Micky Ward deals with his destructive family.

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Because so many of those movies are so enjoyable, "The Fighter" is not without its pedigreed pleasures. Russell films Micky's ascent up the boxing ladder as a series of face-offs with the no-frills immediacy of cable TV smackdowns. He saves the best, the title shot, for last. (What he leaves out entirely are the subsequent historic trilogy of fights against Arturo Gatti that constitute Micky's homeboy legend.)

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Whenever "The Fighter" moves away from the ring, it loses its bearings – and its verity. Micky's extended family, beginning with his mother, is a screeching caricature of working-class discombobulation. His seven sisters, for example, are a recurring Greek chorus of chain-smoking couch potatoes.

As a fighter, Micky was known for taking great punishment in the ring before going on the offensive and unleashing his lethal left hook, but he's no match for the women in his family. This chink in his armor could have been funny, but was it necessary to make the women so annoyingly obtuse? Since when is "blue collar" synonymous with "stunted"?

Dicky is equally annoying, despite Bale's full-on performance, because his mania never varies. Wahlberg's good-guy proletarian routine is also unchanging. Like Micky, Wahlberg is a counterpuncher performer, and because he's surrounded by a gaggle of high-flying overactors, he tends to recede into the scenery.

Only Amy Adams, playing Micky's tough-tender girlfriend Char­lene, manages to be convincingly working-class without seeming either dopey or rabid or strung-out. Not many actresses could play with equal success a wide-eyed Disney princess (in "Enchanted") and, as she does here, a tough-cookie bar hostess. She has become an actress of remarkable range.

A cross between a boxing biopic and a paean to working-class heroism, "The Fighter" doesn't quite make the weight class in either category.

The filmmakers are so intent on deifying Micky that they never stop to question whether all those beatings he received and handed out were worth the human cost.

His life has been retrofitted into the Hollywood legend machine. Grade: B- (Rated R for language throughout, drug content, some violence, and sexuality.)

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