Friday November 14, 1997
John Savage, who physically resembles the real-life Strauss.
Savage's Omaha-based Strauss comes across as a dese, dem and dose guy whose speech belies a cagey philosopher and an old pro with an original take on the rules. Early on, Mouse--who had been a bouncer in a topless bar--discovers he just loves to box and that that was the point rather than winning. The other point is that in carefully calculating losing vs. occasionally winning he discovered a way to secure longevity doing what he loved and in the process earning a decent living for his family.
There are two catches, however. First, by being on the road so much of the time, Mouse puts an increasing strain on his marriage to his loving but fed-up schoolteacher wife (Angelica Torn, the talented daughter of Rip Torn and the late Geraldine Page) and neglects his daughter (Irina Cashen). (He's proud of her skill as a gymnast but loathes the fiercely competitive aspect of her sport.)
While a marital crisis is at the heart of "The Mouse," the film dodges the darker implications of Strauss' career. It treats in jokey fashion the fact that Strauss shamelessly resorts to any ruse to avoid the requisite three-month layoff between being knocked out.
"The Mouse" is intent on being a sweet, modest little comedy, but it's just impossible to sit through it without being forced to think about the brutal aspects of Strauss' way of life and how dangerous all those knockouts are to his brain and to his very existence. Furthermore, Savage has made Mouse such a likably distinctive guy we can't help but become concerned about him. "The Mouse" would have been a stronger movie had it found a way to deal with such realities of the ring.
At the same time "The Mouse," whose fine cast includes Charles Bailey-Gates and Rip Torn (as a trucker convinced he's God) is very good at depicting an individual so consumed by doing what he loves best and the toll that can exact on the lives of those he loves best. You don't have to be a boxer to identify with the Mouse.
The Mouse, 1997. Unrated. A Strand release of an Early Morning film. Writer-director Daniel Adams. Producers Hank Blumenthal, Harris Tulchin, John Savage. Executive producers Richard Segedin, Charlie Irish, Jimmy Walter. Cinematographer Denise Brassard. Editor Victoria Street. Costumes Deborah Newhall. Music Jonathan Edwards. Production designer Gay Studebaker. Art director Richard Devine. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. John Savage as Bruce (The Mouse) Strauss. Angelica Torn as Mary Lou Strauss. Rip Torn as Trucker. Charles Bailey-Gates as Joe. Irina Cashen as Jamie Strauss.