"Selena" (1997) retold the true, yet soap-operalike saga of a Hispanic patriarch who pushed his children to achieve the musical success that eluded him. In the same vein, and with much the same style, "Price of Glory" follows "papi" Arturo Ortega (Jimmy Smits) as he coaches his pugilistic offspring into a boxing-ring victory he himself was denied. First-time screenwriter Phil Berger, who has covered the sport for The New York Times, relies heavily on clichés but somehow manages to make this melodramatic story take off.
After being brought up in the boxing world too fast and barely escaping death in a nasty championship round, Arturo becomes determined to mold his own sons into winners. Soon, the prepubescent Sonny (Jon Seda, who played Selena's husband in the aforementioned film) and Jimmy (Clifton Collins Jr.) are earning Silver Gloves titles; their relationships with their father also have come to be defined by sparring. When a pee-wee match-up is missing a contestant, younger brother Johnny (Ernesto Hernandez), who has not yet been groomed but idolizes his father and attends all the practice sessions, steps into the ring and instantly shows great promise.
Berger's script reduces Arturo's interactions with his three sons to pat relationship types, yet they're types that do ring true. Sonny stays on amiable terms with his father, though his interest in having a girlfriend causes a rift between them. Particularly disturbing is the borderline abuse Arturo visits upon Jimmy: The rebellious son is shown little love and suffers the fiery extremes of his father's temperament. For balance, we're given Johnny, whose hero worship remains constant even during his dad's most destructive outbursts.
As he represents the ultimate in machismo and stubbornness, the character of Arturo could easily fall into laughable stereotype. Although his irrational actions can often frustrate both his family and the audience, Smits manages to ground the man in reality, even when the script takes his behavior to extremes.
Seda, Collins and Hernandez are all physically perfect as the boxing brood. Both Seda and Collins bring true emotion to their roles, although Hernandez relies more on visual presence than any demonstrable acting talent.
Amazingly, the seemingly formulaic story provides plenty of surprises, particularly a tragic development that occurs after promoter Nick Everson (Ron Perlman) attempts to pry the sons away from their father's control.
"Price of Glory" may not be a knockout, but it does offer an often entertaining and crowd-pleasing (if slightly old-fashioned) look at a dysfunctional family on the ropes. Get in the ring.