‘Mike’ review: Trevante Rhodes’ knockout performance lifts a Hulu series that deserves a split decision


Mike Tyson’s story hardly suffers from a lack of media exposure, so an effort to create a new limited series around the former heavyweight champion entered the ring facing a high bar. Despite a knockout performance from Trevante Rhodes, “Mike” doesn’t consistently illuminate it, delivering an episodic, sometimes overly irreverent tone, seeking to portray not just the boxer but those who have passed through his orbit.

Created by Steven Rogers (“I, Tonya”), “Mike” represents an unauthorized depiction of Tyson’s life that has drawn the ire of the man himself, eliminating not only the reported record, but also the Tyson’s individual biographical show, “Undisputed Truth,” using Rhodes reproducing this material as a kind of interstitial glue to hold the production together.

The device proves a bit too meta for its own good, creating uneven drama that, even with Rhodes’ impressive footwork, offers a split decision at best.

The tale begins with Tyson’s difficult early years, before his discovery by gruff trainer Cus D’Amato (Harvey Keitel) set him on the path to boxing glory, the enormous wealth that comes with it. and an almost Shakespearean downfall, including Tyson’s excesses and exploitation. by those around him.

As constructed, the 30-minute episodes of “Mike” essentially create windows into different players in his evolving story, with Tyson periodically hitting the fourth wall to address the audience directly or narrate.

Rhodes (“Moonlight”) admirably captures Tyson in all his contradictions, from his imposing physique to his emotional vulnerability, in a way that goes beyond simply mimicking his voice and embracing his mannerisms. The smartly chosen cast also includes Laura Harrier as Robin Givens and Russell Hornsby as promoter Don King.

Yet “Mike” clearly wants to be more than just a biography, going beyond the 1990s HBO film to consider issues of race, class and sexual politics. The tonal shifts therefore make it much more of a hit affair, with the most effective episode focusing on Desiree Washington (Li Eubanks), the beauty pageant contestant whose rape accusation against Tyson sparked the scorn of her peers. defenders, prompting her to say hauntingly of the happy teenager she was, “Desiree is gone, and she’s not coming back.”

Tyson has remained in the public eye, for everything from marketing edibles to an altercation on a plane in April. ABC weighed in last year with the documentary “Mike Tyson: The Knockout,” and in some ways that effort and this series from Disney company sibling Hulu complement each other.

Hulu has had notable success with fact-based miniseries including “The Dropout,” “Dopesick,” and “Pam & Tommy,” and “Mike” fits right into that wheelhouse.

On the plus side, the project’s short eight-episode format allows for a relatively airy binge, and the larger issues the producers highlight can theoretically benefit from filtering through a more modern lens.

Yet the use of Tyson’s attempt to repackage his biography into a “show” as a central framing device conveys how much of a self-referential exercise it turns out to be. Perhaps that’s why it feels like ‘Mike’ scores a few strong points but ultimately doesn’t bring enough new to his fight plan to go the distance.

“Mike” premieres August 25 on Hulu.