Don’t Mess Around With My Pigeons
Starring: Mike Tyson
By Robert Patrick
Mike Tyson’s life, blunt and weighty as a steel pipe slapping against a bystander’s temple, is anything but innocuous. The former heavyweight champ, renown for his tyrannical outbursts and athletic prowess, narrates a documentary about himself, in Tyson, director James Toback’s newest film. The subject, through his own words, expounds on everything from the infamous ear biting incident with Evander Hollyfield, to his frenzied relationships with women. His face, having had been branded with fists his whole life, looks worn and weathered. His voice bobs, ever so distinctively, between skewered highs and slurring lows. Tyson is, no matter what the public consensus is, an interesting person worthy of each battered, tainted exposition that is culled from his mouth.
The film, questionably objective as it is, depicts Tyson as a behemoth titan whose poor judgment has let him crash down, hard, into the pitfalls of his own erroneous ways. The giant, seen here with humility and good natured grins, flashes his gentler, more congenial sensibilities during his screen time. Though I would’ve, at any other time, assumed that Tyson’s halo is something concocted from the studio’s prop department, the once boxer seems sincere in most of his interviews. You see the champ, eyes watery and face tightening, talk about some of the most difficult times in his life. Later, when sifting through some of his more unintelligible blurbs, you find the type of whimsical anecdotes that make you crank back your head and laugh.
Most of the film shows Tyson, talking, in the comfort of a well lit room. Sometimes, when the film feels it necessary to change gears, there is a montage of grainy footage that putters about. In some of the more endearing shots, you see the former champ coddling his children. In some of the more rancorous, you listen to him talk about his need to possess women. Tyson wobbles, curling to abrupt stops and speeds, as he unrolls his past.
When the boxing footage bolts over the screen, you see the young Tyson whip his feet around the ring, to the point where he can coil back his arm, then pop his opposition straight in the face with minimal damage done to himself. These sequences pepper up and otherwise stoic film – at least on the basis of action.
There are shots in this film, on the beach, with Tyson looking pensively upon the crashing waves that look emotionally contrived; I don’t need to see him, jacket blowing from the sea breeze, to understand he is distraught or reminiscent. After twenty or so of these sequences I seriously believed that Tyson was waiting for a boat. I can only guess that Toback was influenced by Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” video, with all of the theatrical plowing of feet through sand. When the crew isn’t filming this ridiculous charade, Tyson’s gleaming teeth are front and center, clacking down as he speaks. The former champ’s face is so close to the camera, in fact, that I felt like I was being repetitiously head butted. Directorially, this film suffers from some of the worst camerawork feasible. I wanted, desperately, for someone to edit this thing for Toback. A high school student working on his mom’s Mac could’ve snipped and cut a better looking product.
Everyone understands that Tyson has the power of an anvil behind his punches, but it’s a surprise to listen to him talk. Tyson is ornate, in his own way, when he unwraps a story about his life. The retired boxer stammers as he recites poetry, but makes verbal blips of eloquence while he does it. Once could say that Tyson is well spoken in his own way.
The movie gets a little tedious, with Tyson dropping lines upon lines of redundant information, but the revelations within the tundra of dialogue make the film worthy of watching. Remember that crazy tattoo he got stamped across his face? Well, originally, he wanted to have hearts there. He also, if you believe him, is convinced that he began fighting when someone accosted one of his pigeons. Whether any of this is true or not is behind me, but the quotable lines get threaded swiftly like a volley of arrows into the audience.
The movie has its problems, but overall, if taken with a grain of salt and a couple hours of time, you’ll appreciate the subject and the exploration of the subject’s intellect and occasional psychosis.
If I can quote Scott Marks, a fellow critic, “This movie would serve better as an audiotape.”