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Ugh. When I was offered a Mike Tyson documentary directed by Spike Lee I jumped at it, cause I like Spike Lee's documentaries. People like to have wild opinions about Spike Lee because he has a habit of saying controversial things, but I've always found him to be an interesting filmmaker. Even when he is making bad movies. He has made some especially good documentaries like 4 Little Girls and When the Levees Broke. What I failed to realize in my enthusiasm was that this wasn't an ordinary documentary. It is a stage performance based on Mike Tyson's memoir, "The Undisputed Truth". It is Mike Tyson speaking in his own words (I assume, though Kiki Tyson is credited as a writer), while Spike Lee helps pick some slides to show behind him and a few flourishes to go on some storytelling bits. This is not something I want.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
I can't deny Mike Tyson's achievements in the boxing world. He was a great athlete. But I think Mike Tyson is an awful human being. I think he is a better person today than he used to be. He has a sense of humor about himself and he seems a bit humbled by personal tragedy, but he's hardly affable like this performance would suggest. Last year I watched James Toback's documentary, Tyson, after hearing good things. This documentary was also Mike Tyson speaking on his own career, but it is a much more serious affair. Not being overly familiar with his career, I found Tyson very informative. Even though I still don't like Tyson, I felt like I understood him a lot better. I was a little unsettled by the fact that Toback and Tyson were great friends, and some of Tyson's more infamous scandals were mostly overlooked to talk about what a great fighter he was. You get the same attention to details in Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth, but in a much more light presentation where the man also spends half the show trying to be funny. If the voice wasn't already a strong indicator, he is not a strong stage performer.

Do you remember that jock type from high school that would always talk about how tough he was and recount his moments of valor with obnoxious re-enactments? The kind of story you just politely nod your way through. Maybe its just me, but that experience is what this stage performance felt like. Without much of a filter, Tyson shifts from topic to topic with very little grace. He often stops to indulge in long descriptions and voices. He does way too many unfunny impressions of Cus D'Amato, and just loves to recount his fights. Especially his encounters outside the ring with Mitch Green. He'll slow the show down for 10 minutes to put on a wig and dance around shadow boxing, but guess what is a total footnote? Yeah, his convicted rape and prison sentence. He makes a flimsy two-sentence case for himself and says he didn't do it, then the audience claps and he moves on. They also clapped as he trash talked his ex-wife Robin Givens, calling her things like "a cold fart" among other demeaning terms. It comes off as extremely tasteless and self-indulgent. The way the audience cheers on his behavior just made me sick.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
From a directorial standpoint, Lee puts some effort into making this more than a boring point and shoot affair. There are some interesting camera angles, sometimes getting right up in Tyson's face. He plays with lighting and there are even some nice Foley artist touches timed to Tyson's action. It's a respectable effort. I had fun imagining what it would be like if Lee had full creative control and decided to stylize the event with various sets, similar to Soderbergh's approach to Gray's Anatomy. Now that would've been something interesting.

Video


This DVD from HBO has a solid video transfer. It is a stage production so there is not a whole lot to say here. There's nothing visually interesting going on here, and this is a perfectly serviceable standard definition presentation. It holds up well in the highly contrasted lighting and there aren't too many noticeable instances of noise. Nothing egregious to report.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Audio


Same story here. This is a stage performance so as you can imagine there isn't a whole lot going on with this Dolby Digital 5.1 track. His voice sticks to the front channels. He isn't easy to understand, but that has more to do with Mike Tyson than the audio track. Thankfully subtitles are present. The extra channels come in to use very occasionally when the audience reacts to him, or when some Foley effects are added for storytelling flourish. Again, nothing foul to report on this front.

Extras


The only extra aside from a digital copy voucher is Conversations (02:29), which is just a quick bit of fluff to promote the documentary. It likely played as an ad between programs on HBO.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth

Overall


There is probably a good, unbiased documentary about the life of Mike Tyson out there waiting to be made. This stage version of Mike Tyson telling the events is far from it. If you want to hear Mike Tyson tell his story, opt for Toback's Tyson documentary. It has its own problems but is a far more respectable and informative look at the boxer's life than this indulgent hodgepodge. HBO has released a fine DVD presentation of the performance, but only a bit of fluff in the extras section.


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