American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
There were articles in all the papers a few years ago about Tough Man Contests, a brilliant method of exploiting saloon fighters and street-corner brawlers. A promoter comes to town, rents a hall and says he wants to find the toughest man in town. Every macho drunk for miles around signs up. On the appointed night, the tough guys climb into the ring and hammer each other, and the winner gets a cash prize and a chance to move on to the semifinals.
The genius of Tough Man contests is that they combine the violence of prize-fighting, the buffoonery of pro wrestling, the show business of Roller Derby and the chance to see local guys making idiots out of themselves. Given all the energy expended annually in saloon brawls, it was probably only a matter of time until someone found a way to package it.
"Tough Enough" is a nice little movie about the Tough Guy contests. It's sneaking into town during the media barrage for "Return of the Jedi," and it's likely nobody will even hear about it, but it's a goofy entertainment that has some good moments and a couple of interesting characters. The movie stars Dennis Quaid as a would-be country singer who signs up for a contest to get money to pay the rent. Stan Shaw is a local kid who gets eliminated in an early round and stays on as Quaid's trainer. And the late Warren Oates turns up as the originator and promoter of the Tough Man empire.
The movie's really two stories in one. The most obvious story involves the fights themselves, and the movie's major flaw is that is has too many fight scenes -- so much that it repeats itself and we lose interest (the "Rocky" pictures always saved the best fight for the last). It's the secondary story that's more interesting -- the story about Quaid and his discontented wife, Shaw and his ringside quarterbacking, and Oates and his con man's dream.