A Movie A Day #297: Tommy (2017, directed by Gentry Kirby and Erin Leyden)

Tommy Morrison.  He came from Oklahoma and he was briefly one of the best-known heavyweights in the country.  He may be best remembered for playing Tommy “Machine” Gunn in Rocky V but he also fought everyone from Lennox Lewis to Ray Mercer to George Foreman.  He had the raw talent to be a contender but lacked the discipline to win his biggest fights.  They called him “The Duke” because Tommy claimed to be related to John Wayne.

Tommy’s career came crashing down when, in 1996, he tested positive for HIV.  Suspended from boxing, Tommy announced that he would never fight again and then spent the rest of his life trying to return to the ring.  In 2006, after serving time in prison on drug and weapons charges, Morrison claimed that the original test had been a false negative.  Morrison provided new test results that he said proved that he was HIV-negative.  Some believed him.  Most did not.  When Morrison returned to the ring, it was against lesser opponents than he fought in his heyday.  When he died of AIDS complications in 2013, he was 44 years old.

Produced for ESPN’s 30 For 30, Tommy examine the life of Tommy Morrison.  Featuring interviews with his family and trainers, Tommy starts with a 13 year-old Tommy Morrison using a fake ID to enter toughman contests in Oklahoma and follows him from the height of his boxing career to his eventual downfall.  Tommy emerges as sincere but undisciplined and tragically incapable of handling the sudden fame that was thrust on him as result of being the latest in a long line of great white hopes.  (In an interview, Ray Mercer says that he knew he would beat Tommy as soon as he saw the outbreak of acne of Tommy’s back, a sign that Tommy was using steroids and would run out of gas before their fight ended.)  Tommy spends his final days in denial about both his poor health and the end of his career.

I wish Tommy had gone into more detail about some aspects of Morrison’s story.  The documentary does not address the accusations that, during his comeback tour, Tommy presented doctored tests to attempt to prove that he was HIV-negative.  Tommy is still an interesting documentary, one that will mostly appeal to fans of boxing or anyone who wants to know more about the actor who played Tommy Gunn.

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