Counterpunch‘s opening credits play over slow-motion footage of a pugilist gracefully practicing his art alone in a ring, inviting immediate comparison with Raging Bull – which, however, does Counterpunch no favors, only throwing into starker contrast than necessary the dramatic inferiority of everything that follows.  The best boxing films are character studies, and Counterpunch at least gets that part right, focusing more on the personal life of aspiring fighter Emilio Manrique (Alvaro Orlando) than on his professional struggles.  The trouble is that Manrique too often comes across as a victim rather than a hero, and that the idea of an athlete with bipolar disorder overcoming his gang past, an alcoholic mother, a stabbed dog, and a grandmother’s heart disease simply falls short of good entertainment.

Alvaro Orlando is charming as an unusually shy fighter attached to his dog but awkward when it comes to women.  Counterpunch might have been a better, more satisfying film had the character not been a boxer at all, as the film’s treatment of the sport and the figures who operate around it offers little new to the genre apart from peppery, bickering Cubans and the boring novelty of an attractive female fight promoter. Camila Banus is never really convincing as someone who would live in this grimy world, but does have a chemistry with Orlando and might have been better utilized in a more fully developed romantic storyline.  Danny Trejo, contrarily, has the perfect type of hardened features for a study of the demimonde of broken lives that is boxing, but Trejo has little to do in his meager and undemanding supporting role as a friendly orderly in a mental institution.

Counterpunch‘s biggest mistake where the hard-hitting boxing melodrama is concerned may be its insistence on being blandly uplifting (including the obligatory climactic comeback knockout) where downbeat defeat would be more realistic and faithfully tragic.  ICA’s advice: see Fat City or Requiem for a Heavyweight instead.  2.5 of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Counterpunch is:

7. Anti-slut.  Apart from the unfavorable depiction of Emilio’s mother (Yeniffer Behrens), there is a scene in which a woman having sex in a parked car becomes the target of gang members looking for group action.

6. Feminist.  “If I’m going to be a female boxing promoter, I gotta work twice as hard,” resourceful promoter Talia Portillo (Camila Banus) says, suggesting that the sexist professional deck is stacked against the distaff.

5. Anti-drug.  Emilio attempts suicide after drinking heavily and smoking a joint.  His alcoholic mother is a mess and suffers at the hand of her druggy boyfriend, who is eventually murdered in a dispute over a dime bag.

4. Christian.  “God’s last name is not ‘Damn’,” Emilio’s Grandma Daisy (Ivonne Coll) reverently reminds his Uncle Frank (Oscar Torre).  When Emilio questions God’s existence, Grandma Daisy placidly reassures him, saying, “God gave me you.”  Uncle Frank sends Emilio a Bible for comfort during his institutionalization.

3. Class-conscious.  Emilio says he comes from a part of Miami no one ever sees.  He lacks the promotional backing of established fighter Teddy (Jilon Ghai) and feels uncomfortable at a trendy dance party attended by beautiful, well-dressed people.

2. Diversity-skeptical.  Cuban street thugs (who call each other “Nigga”) react with hostility to encroachments onto their turf by “dirty Haitians”.  After Emilio’s gang, the Jack Boys, beat and rob a Caucasian, one member taunts him, “A’ight, Mr. White Man, pleasure doing business with you.”  “I hate the way people look down at pitbulls just because of the way they look,” Emilio reflects suggestively at one point.  Though never made explicit, there is a racial tension to his rivalry with white fighter Teddy.

1. Pro-family.  Emilio’s mother repeatedly lets him down, but his Uncle Frank and Grandma Daisy are dependable and a source of strength.

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