When I first saw that Craig Gillespie, the director behind I, Tonya, was going to be the driving force of a Mike Tyson series on Hulu, my heart skipped a beat. Gillespie is a real talent, and Tyson’s life is ripe for a deep dive with satirical flourishes (as Gillespie is known for), but then I watched all eight episodes, and I was stunned by all of the on the nose, show-offy, breaking the fourth wall moves by the director. Not so much that he tried it, but that almost none of it works.
Which leaves the question: “What happened?”
In fact, I’m trying to figure out who this is for. The boxing scenes are far too garish and short to supply any adrenaline to sports fans, the series plays like a greatest hits version of Tyson’s career. Cus Damato and Robin Givens are both gone by episode three, and since each segment is roughly thirty minutes, there’s almost no time spent on the sort of minutiae that would make Mike revealing, and the breakneck pace and running time of each segment makes that impossible.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing that works here. Trevante Rhodes (despite not carrying much of a physical resemblance) clearly did his homework before taking the role. He got down the lisp, the speech patterns, the mannerisms, and more, but the series does not give Rhodes the chance to sink his teeth into the role like Tyson did Holyfield’s ear (sorry, couldn’t resist). There are also moments when Rhodes turns and speaks directly to the camera that are amusing in and of themself, but none of these moments add up to more than that chuckle.
Rhodes is a fine actor who really stretches himself here. The problem is he’s doing it for a show that’s a mile wide and an inch deep.
The series uses Tyson’s one man show from 2012 as a framing device, which could have been interesting, but, once again, with each episode running at sitcom length, I actually think the filmmakers would have been better off not using it all. While those onstage moments can be revealing, and Rhodes does what he can with them, the stage sequences often undercut the narrative of Mike’s life. The sad fact is though, those sequences aren’t the great either. With Harvey Keitel as Cus, you’re going to have nice moments, but that’s all they are. It should be said that your mileage may vary on Russell Hornbsy’s take on Don King depending on whether you saw Mykelti Williamson in Ali or Vhing Rhames in Only in America. I would submit that both of those actors got to the root of the elusive boxing kingpin that Hornsby did here.
I know Gillespie and crew were bold here in terms of presentation, but it’s as if they quite literally lost the plot of Mike’s life. Basically, this is the scrapbook version of the life of Mike Tyson. The show might be diverting at times, but what do you really learn that you didn’t already know—especially if you are a boxing fan?
You have to wonder, what was the goal here? Not every film/series can or should try to be Raging Bull, but if there was ever a boxer whose life, no matter how surreal it was at times, deserved the full Lamotta treatment, it’s the life of Mike Tyson.
Instead, what we get is a series of far too cute monologues delivered to the camera, and the sense that all this time and energy spent on style did so while in no service to substance. The roughly four hours I spent with Mike were done so while suffering from full-on bewilderment. A lot of time, energy, and talent went into making Mike, but at the end of the day, it all adds up to the Bard’s cliche: “Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
There was more than a bit of controversy from Tyson himself regarding his lack of involvement in the HULU series when it was announced. To be fair, it’s not always a good thing for a star to be involved in the making of their own biopic—they can be too close to the story to be an honest arbiter over what is to be shown and how. Yet, one can’t help but think, if Mike were involved in the making of Mike, how could it be any worse?