It feels like it’s been a while since ESPN has debuted a new 30 for 30. Perhaps that’s partially because the last installment to air was the previously ESPN+ exclusive Last Days of Knight, which I originally reviewed back in April. In any case, I was excited to get back into the swing of things and check out 42 to 1 by Jeremy Schaap and Ben Houser. Unfortunately, the film itself wasn’t exactly my favorite.
42 to 1 focuses on boxer James “Buster” Douglas. More specifically, the film chronicles the heavyweight’s infamous 1990 bout with then-champion and now-Hangover star Mike Tyson. In that fight, Douglas was the underdog. How much of an underdog? Well, if you know anything about how betting odds work, the title of the film should give you a clue.
Obviously, this seemingly lopsided card is the stuff that dozens of sports films (both fictional and documentary) are made of. But, this being a 30 for 30, there’s also a bit more to it than that. The film also dives into Douglas’s career up to that point as well as his sometimes rocky relationship with his father — also a famed prizefighter — and the tragedy that struck just before the title fight in Tokyo took place. That said, it was footage of the match in question that mostly steals the show, with Tyson taking up about as much screentime as Douglas. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but anyone turning on this film and watching for the first few minutes might assume the doc is about the high-voiced boxing legend instead of Buster.
With a runtime under an hour, 42 to 1 is certainly not the longest film in the 30 for 30 catalog (though there have been others of similar length). Then again, the runtime seems to fit its ambitions as the film is one of the more straightforward installments, with few twists or turns to speak of. As a result, while the film is still engaging and, at times, emotional, it doesn’t rise into the pantheon of great sports documentaries in my opinion. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy watching it, but I didn’t feel nearly as invested in it as I have previous films.
Incidentally, following ESPN’s premiere of 42 to 1, the aired the Tyson-Douglas fight in its entirety right afterward. Honestly, that’s actually about what this film seems perfect as: a prelude to that now-classic match up. But, on its own, it’s an entertaining way to spend an hour, but not one of 30 for 30′s best.
Enjoy 42 to 1 and other great titles in the 30 for 30 Documentary library with a subscription to ESPN+.
Kyle is a writer living in Springfield, MO. His deep love of Disney and other pop culture finds its way into his stories, scripts, and tweets. His first book “The E-Ticket Life: Stories, Essays, and Lessons Learned from My Decidedly Disney Travels” is available in paperback and for Kindle. http://amzn.to/1CStAhV