Mike Tyson Just Wants To Be Loved 

Tyson
Directed by James Toback


Tyson opens with a bird’s-eye shot of a boxing ring, suggesting that the film to follow might be a judgment of the titular mortal, through a lens godly. No such luck — not godly, just Tobackly. This straightforward, apotheosizing biodoc is too ensorcelled by its subject to take the cold, distanced or objective view. It plays out instead as one long fawning interview; writer-director Toback sets his camera in front of the scary, now-face-tattooed pugilist and lets him spill his compelling story as he sees it: the childhood bullying and heavyweight championships; the marriages and rape scandal; the Buster Douglas fight and, um, the Holyfield ear…incident.

Toback edits in archival footage — and, groan, footage of Tyson staring out at the ocean — as appropriate, but his attempts to gussy up the proceedings mostly amount to fragmented multi-frames (highlighting the subject’s “complexity”?) and overlapping monologues. These conspicuous gimmicks fail to vivify the static film — essentially, The Baddest Man on the Planet sitting in his living room, lisping cheerfully. But the director does manage otherwise to humanize a pop culture icon that decades of bad behavior, writ large across tabloid headlines, had reduced to a cartoon.

The simplified popular conception of the convicted rapist, the ear-eating madman, the easily provoked aggressor (“I’ll fuck you till you love me, faggot!”), is rejected for something more three-dimensional; Tyson, wiser in his 40s, emerges as an erstwhile hothead, a self-reflective sage, a vulnerable, loveably insecure teddy bear who cries on camera. More than once. Whether or not he deserves to be characterized so sympathetically remains uncertain, as Toback neglects to elicit any contemporary input from anyone but Iron Mike. For better or worse, this is Tyson on Tyson — not The True Story of Mike Tyson.

Opens April 24

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