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Review: In the end, 'Notorious' pulls too many punches

Conor McGregor in "Conor McGregor: Notorious."

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS/TNS

By RICK BENTLEY | Tribune News Service | Published: November 8, 2017

Dublin-born Colin McGregor didn’t just arrive on the sports scene. His was a debut of nuclear magnitude that took him from being a blue collar worker to becoming such a massive icon in the sport of mixed martial arts he was a major factor in bringing the sport out of small clubs and into the bright lights of Las Vegas. That explosion was fueled by an endless supply of confidence, unfailing determination and an obsession not to just be the best in his UFC weight class, but tops in as many weight classes as possible.

The explosive rise to prominence is documented through director Gavin Fitzgerald’s “Conor McGregor: Notorious.” The movie will play in selected theaters only on Wednesday and along with the 90-minute documentary, there will be an interview with McGregor. While the film offers some rare looks at the life for McGregor outside the octagon ring to show where McGregor is today, the director hesitates in putting into perspective what it was in McGregor’s past that made him into the man and fighter he’s become.

Fitzgerald’s production is the only official account of McGregor’s journey from quitting his job so he could concentrate on becoming a professional MMA fighter to his highly publicized fight earlier this year with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., where the Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar switched to a more traditional style of boxing.

The strength of the film is McGregor, who loves and lives the bigger-than-life persona of an icon. Whether it be during training sessions, dealing with fans or stressing out about the damage that’s being done to his body, McGregor tackles every moment like a man standing at the edge of an abyss. He’s going to fight with a relentless passion to hold on to each success he captures while living in a place where the end could come with one well-placed punch.

This is the McGregor that his legions of fans get to see. Fitzgerald adds another level of humanity that remains hidden to the world. It’s a very human and soft side that is such a counterpunch to the near maniacal way he fights. One scene that shows McGregor’s everyman side comes after he’s had a meeting with Arnold Schwarzenegger. McGregor asks him to attend an upcoming fight in a tone that sounds like a son trying to convince his father to show up for a Little League game.

After Schwarzenegger leaves, McGregor’s giddy that the movie star promised “I’ll be back.” His reaction is not that of a man who could beat most people to submission with his bare hands, but of a fan who has had the chance to meet an idol.

The problem is that intimate moment is a rarity as it gives way to long scenes of McGregor training, doing interviews and going through even more training. The way Fitzgerald has put together his film, it comes across less like a true documentary and more like an extended report for ESPN or Fox Sports.

What the film is lacking are in-depth stories from McGregor’s childhood and interviews with his family, friends and coaches who could help show the textures of the fighter. There’s only a brief mention of how he had to be tough as a child, but there needs to be an informational bridge that shows how McGregor went from being a tough kid to one of the closest examples of a pure fighting machine on the planet.

Fitzgerald had access to many of McGregor’s closest mates as they appear in the film to help the UFC champion train or to be there for support when he has finished his latest bloody battle. There’s more said about rehab an injured leg than showing a glimpse into McGregor’s past.

McGregor is an executive producer on the project, and if the film reveals anything about him, he has a very linear view of the world when it comes to reaching a goal. Nothing will distract him from getting to the point he’s imagined. The approach of “Conor McGregor: Notorious” to stay focused on his trek from a young man hungry for success through major fights is keeping with that kind of thinking.

There’s also a feeling the project was rushed, especially when it comes to the Mayweather fight, as it is shown during the closing credits. That fight alone would have made for a very interesting documentary, but not when it’s treated like an afterthought.

The thin story elements don’t ruin the movie, especially for those who see McGregor as one of the biggest names in sports. The film charts his course in detail. It would have been a bonus to hear what McGregor was like before he found his passion and how his views have changed after becoming a father.

Of course, complaining about a deeper examination of the life of McGregor is a little like seeing the film “Rocky” and getting upset that the fight sequences ignore what would really happen in a real boxing match. Even without a deeper examination of the personal side of the fighter, “Conor McGregor: Notorious” still packs a punch. It just isn’t the knockout that it should have been.

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CONOR MCGREGOR: NOTORIOUS

2 stars

Cast: Conor McGregor, Jose Alto, Nate Diaz, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Director: Gavin Fitzgerald

Not rated: includes language, brutal fight scenes

Running time: 90 minutes.

In theaters Wednesday only.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Topics: t000136244,t000003183

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