May 15, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: 'Tyson' -- GRADE: C+

'Tyson' lays out boxer's hard life

"Tyson" tells Mike Tyson's tale through archival footage and interviews. (Sony Picture Classics)

There is a scrambled intelligence behind Mike Tyson's eyes in "Tyson" that is undeniable. The common explanation for that scrambling would likely be Tyson has spent much of his life getting punched in the head.

But James Toback's documentary "Tyson" easily makes the point that most of the scrambling can be traced to Tyson's odd place in society and disastrous upbringing. Mix in three decades of hard pummeling and you hardly have a recipe for eloquence.

Actually, what you have is a recipe for disaster, and despite his squandered riches -- the former boxer has apparently run through tens of millions of dollars over the years -- Tyson's life has pretty much lived up to that recipe.

Born into an impoverished family, Tyson began life as a scared kid on mean streets. As he tells it in this film comprised of fresh interviews and archival footage, it was when a bully killed one of his prized pigeons that he finally turned to his fists.

His success in that encounter spawned an early-teen criminal career, which put him in juvenile hall, which led him to boxing. His natural skill and supernatural strength were noticed by boxing legend Cus D'Amato, who took Tyson in during his late teens and molded him into an Olympic and eventual world champion boxer.

Tyson's power and fury in the ring are undeniable -- he simply mashes most of his early opponents. But outside the ring he is a foreigner, an uneducated caveman blessed with riches yet completely lacking in basic social skills and common sense.

To Toback's credit, he never pretends Tyson is a saint, and lets the brutish animal within come out on screen often enough. But he also finds the tender side of the beast. Which makes "Tyson" something of a cliché, even as its subject seems one of the most miserable people on Earth.

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