“You know Rocky. Now meet Chuck.”
So proclaims a New York newspaper advertisement for the new film, “Chuck,” labeled by the ad as “the untold story of the inspiration for Rocky Balboa.”
Back in 1975, Chuck Wepner, a club fighter from Bayonne, got the chance of a lifetime when he was picked to challenge Muhammad Ali, who had just unseated George Forman as heavyweight champion.
Wepner, who was credited with a knockdown of Ali, was counted out with only seconds to go in the 15th round of their bout.
In 2003, Wepner – known as the “Bayonne Bleeder” – sued filmmaker Sylvester Stallone for allegedly reneging on a deal to compensate him as the creative spark that led to Stallone’s making the Oscar-winning 1976 movie “Rocky.”
The lawsuit hit the canvas three years later after the litigants agreed to drop their gloves and settle for undisclosed terms.
On Friday, May12, the film “Chuck,” directed by Philippe Falardeau and featuring Live Schreiberin the title role, will be shown at the Frank Theatres at the South Cove Commons Plaza in Bayonne.
The movie, which debuted as part of the Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival in September 2016 and is now been screened in Manhattan, also stars Naomi Watts (Schreiber’s real-life spouse) as Linda, Wepner’s third and current wife; Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) as Phyllis, Wepner’s second wife; and Ron Perlman as Al Braverman, Wepner’s manager.
Produced by Mike Tollin and with a script credited by Jeff Feuerzeig and Jerry Stahl, the film is being promoted by Wepner’s longtime friend Bruce Dillin, owner of Dillin’s Tires in Bayonne.
Dillin promises a “Hollywood opening night” with a red-carpet welcome for a “limited audience of about 500,” with Wepner arriving in a limousine and a photo op with the star, all for $50 a head.
For $150, the ticket buyer gets a package deal: a pre-movie dinner at 6:30 p.m. at Otaiko Hibachi & Sushi Lounge in the shopping plaza with Wepner followed by the film at 9 p.m.
Inside the theater, Dillin plans to show “revolving videos of Chuck’s wrestling career” and more as part of the festivities.
Dillin, head of the 2,500-member Chuck Wepner Fan Club, says the film promotion is intended as a “platform for my vision of a statue to Chuck” – ideally, to be built near the flagpole at the top of the steps in Stephen R. Gregg Hudson County Park in Bayonne.
It was there, Dillin said, that Wepner did much of his training as a boxer and, he asserted, it was this setting that Stallone adapted in his film when he had Rocky Balboa run up the steps leading to the Philadelphia Art Museum.
Dillin said he’ll apply the proceeds from the film promotion toward the cost of the “life-size” statue.
— Ron Leir