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movie review

Running time: 138 mins. Rated PG-13 (some violence and strong language), with brief drug references and a sexual reference. In theaters and on HBO Max.

The “Fresh Prince”It is dead! Long live the “King!”

Will Smith revives his career as an actor with “King Richard,”An engaging and unusual new biopic about Richard Williams. He is the controversial father to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams.

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s grand slam of a movie is an odd duck because, generally speaking, biographies tend to be made about huge names — Judy Garland, Jackie O., Tonya Harding — and their moms, dads, bosses and old flames are merely colorful side characters who come and go. 

This one? “King Richard” is about how the Williams sisters got their start, absolutely, but it’s their tenacious, quick-tempered, eccentric dad who is at the center. 

Richard is a helluva complex part, alternately lovable aggravating, hilarious scary, that’s so well-suited to Smith. His seismic performance almost makes you forget about “Gemini Man” “Bright” “Collateral Beauty” “Suicide Squad” and “Concussion” and “After Earth” and … 

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The intense pop lives in Compton, Calif., in the early 1990s with his wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis), his daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton), and three daughters from Oracene’s previous marriage.

He writes a 78-page plan — yes, this really happened — to skyrocket the girls to tennis success. 

What is his master plan? They are their first tennis coach, and they bark that they keep an eye out for them. “open stance”On the court, he has them practice for hours and teaches them multiple languages. “media training.” That’s a tall order for preteens.

Richard Williams (Will Smith), wrote a 78-page plan that would make his daughters Venus and Serena tennis stars. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

Here is where the depth comes in: We constantly wonder if he’s doing this out of the love for his girls, or to feed his own ego as he’s begging Pete Sampras’ coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) to take them on for free, or moving the family to Florida for more training.

You can’t deny what Richard did worked. Venus, who the movie follows most closely as she’s slightly older, went on to win five Wimbledons and became No. Number 1. Serena is a great all-around athlete. She’s won 23 Grand Slam titles. It’s an amazing feat.  

Will Smith is the father of Serena and Venus Williams, Richard Williams. “King Richard.”Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

Despite the glory, sometimes during the movie you’re mad at Richard’s brashness and his solo decision making. In a scorcher of a monologue, Oracene, powerfully played by Ellis, yells at him for directing Venus’ life without including his wife or daughter in the process. He also shocked her by the revelation of a former family she had never told him about. He’s no saint — but he might just be a genius.

“King Richard”This is also a fantastic sports movie. While we obviously know that Serena and Venus end up as world-famous phenoms, even most tennis die-hards can’t recall their junior scores. The uncertainty adds suspense to well-shot matches.

The most striking thing about Venus and Serena is that they are both executive producers. “King Richard”The press is supporting the movie. Given their involvement, you’d expect a saintly hagiography that slides over the truth. But that’s not the film they’ve supported. Richard is flawed. He is neither heroic nor villainous and rarely follows his own passionate advice to be humble. You leave admiring what he accomplished but not the man itself. Few biopics today dare to have layers.

Kudos to the Williams siblings for being so (US), open.

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