King Richard

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

Forget about Fresh Prince. Will Smith long ago morphed into a serious actor. Think of movies like “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

And now he’s King Richard.

No, not the Shakespeare character. Instead, Richard Williams, father of tennis phenoms Venus and Serena.

The eponymous movie is “King Richard,” now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.

We meet Richard (Smith), a family man with five daughters, two with his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis). He is training them to become tennis pros, having put together a 78-page plan for their whole life. “I’m in the champion-raising business,” he declares.

“Obsessive” would describe him well. The girls’ coaches add the words “controversial,” “overbearing,” and “a distraction.”

Nonetheless, King Richard was successful in his relentless mission. Venus Ebony Starr Williams achieved No. 1 in the world in both singles and doubles. Serena Jameka Williams has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most by any player in the Open Era.

With that kind of fame, you could expect a movie about one or both of the Williams sisters. But this biopic – directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and written by Zach Baylin – tells the story by focusing on their determined father, and Will Smith fits the role like a tennis glove.

Photographs of Venus and Serena Williams hanging with Will Smith attest to their approval of his portrayal of their father.

Yes, everybody loves Willard Carroll Smith Jr. He burst onto the scene in the late ‘80s as a teenage rapper, the hype man of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. Discovered by Richard Simmons, they had such hits as “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime.”

Quickly, he moved onto the TV screen with a fish-out-of-water sitcom called “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The show was successful … and in a true King Richard style he set for himself the goal of becoming “the biggest movie star in the world.”

He and his manager studied the 10 top-grossing movies of all time. “We looked at them and said, O.K., what are the patterns?” Smith recalls. “We realized that 10 out of 10 had special effects. Nine out of 10 had special effects with creatures. Eight out of 10 had special effects with creatures and a love story.”

So Will Smith made his mark with such hits as “Bad Boys,” “Independence Day,” and the “Men in Black” blockbusters.

I met Will Smith at the studio’s private screening of “Men in Black.” As Executive Vice President of Marvel Entertainment, I was there to approve the rough cut of movie “Men in Black.” The film was based on an Aircel comic that had been bought by Malibu Comics that had been bought by Marvel, so I was there to sign off on the movie’s release.

At the after-party, Tommy Lee Jones was surrounded by his fans, attractive middle-age women. And co-star Will Smith was surrounded by his followers, a gaggle of pretty twentysomethings. Smith was brash, friendly, animated, seemingly sure of himself. Likeable. But obsessive.

He went on to do such films as “Pursuit of Happyness,” “Hitch,” and “Seven Pounds.” He made more sequels, “Men in Black II,” “Men in Black III,” and Bad Boys II.” And such super hero outings as “I, Robot,” “I Am Legend,” “After Earth,” “Hancock,” and “Suicide Squad.” Even the ill-conceived “Wild Wild West.”

By 2013, Forbes had tagged him the Most Bankable Star in the World.

Will Smith has made a career out of playing “a good-natured guy saving the rest of us from the trauma of aliens, robots, crooks or poor dating habits.”

However, “King Richard” stretches his acting muscles. No special effects with creatures. Let’s just call him King Will – no longer a mere prince.

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