Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
MiraJeff’s got a pair of reviews today, and first up is this look at SHADOWBOXER, which I’ve missed several screenings of, unfortunately...
Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here to spar with Shadowboxer and The Night Listener, a pair of disappointing films from a pair of promising filmmakers. Besides utter mediocrity, the other things these films have in common are two of the least believable romances in recent cinematic history. Allow me to elaborate.
First of all, just to let you all know, the directorial debut of Monster’s Ball and Woodsman producer Lee Daniels has nothing to do with boxing. Shadowboxing is just one of three things Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr.) does throughout the movie. The other two are kill people and make sweet, sensuous love to Rose (Helen Mirren), a white woman twice his age. She’s a veteran femme fatale who as a young hitwoman is hired to kill Mikey’s abusive father. After satisfying the terms of her contract, her maternal instinct kicks in and she makes a decision to spare Mikey and raise him as her son. Like she says, “the only man a woman can count on is her son.” Now an adult, Mikey is also a professional killer and his relationship with Rose has become sexual. He’s the strong, silent type who makes her feel alive and loves her, wrinkles and all, while she’s the angel who saved him. Nothin’ like some interracial incest to brighten up your day, right? I think I can safely say that these two make the oddest couple since Harold met Maude.
When they are assigned to murder Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito), the pregnant wife of a psychotic gangster named Clayton (Stephen Dorff), Rose, who is dying of cancer, has a change of heart. Just before she pulls the trigger, Vickie’s water breaks and Rose makes the decision to deliver the baby and whisk Vickie and her newborn away to a better, fuller life. Miraculously, Vickie does pretty well for a woman who just give birth without any anesthesia but Rose still wants to make sure mother and child are tip-top. She calls upon an opportunistic young doctor, Dr. Don (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who shows up with his lover Precious (Mo’Nique) to do a quick check-up. Clearly whoever the casting director was on this one isn’t exactly a Matchmaker in real life. So Rose, Mikey, Vickie, and babe skip town and go on to make a nice little life for themselves for a few years. All things considered, life is going pretty smoothly until someone recognizes wig-wearing Vickie and Clayton goes back on the offensive.
That sums up the main plot pretty well, but there are some minor subplots, most of which involve Cuba Gooding Jr.’s naked ass in some way or another. This includes a ridiculous scene involving Vickie’s best friend Neisha (Macy Gray), where Cuba’s unintentional laugh-factor is off the charts. We’re talking Boat Trip/Snow Dogs level here, although to be fair, I thought Cuba actually provided the film’s only nuanced performance, the only actor trying to do something, anything, with his underwritten character. I’m not exactly sure why Mikey doesn’t know how to express his emotions but I do know that not even William Goldman himself could give the character feelings to show or something interesting to say. There seemed to be so much going on beneath Mikey’s surface, I kinda would’ve liked to have known was it was.
Meanwhile, I don’t know what an actress of Mirren’s caliber is doing here but whoever her “people” are, they need to be fired. Was this an attempt to be a part of some edgy independent film or did she actually think Daniels could pull off something as difficult as this material, which is over-directed, poorly written, convoluted and overcrowded with racy themes. Gordon-Levitt is obviously slumming here but his streak of great performances in good films was destined to end eventually. And while I didn’t care for either of them in Domino, it goes without saying that Macy Gray is a singer, not an actress, although Mo’Nique does the best she can with her supporting role. She’s better than she gets credit for, that’s for sure. Ferlito, who definitely left an impression on me after Season 2 of 24, did nothing for me here, and her character is little more than a mute third-wheel in the second half of the film.
If anyone’s having fun in this cast though, it’s clearly our old buddy Stephen Dorff, who relishes every chance he gets to play a sadistic maniac. Clayton is so eccentric he keeps a zebra for a pet and when we first meet him, he’s shoving the splintered end of a broken pool cue up a guy’s ass for having sex with his wife. And later, when he’s interrupted by a lackey while he’s having sex (cue Dorff’s double-bagged dick shot), Clayton kills a business partner and shoots the lackey in the foot, calmly asking, “what’d I tell you about talking while I’m fucking?” You see, that’s the type of shit I’m talking about when I describe this movie as a cheesy Cinemax b-movie pot-boiler. The film is borderline pornographic, as Mikey makes love to Rose with a gun pressed to her head, and later, Vickie masturbates after watching Mikey shower. I mean, women can’t be the target audience for a movie like this, so what’s with the gratuitous male nudity?
The press notes seem to idolize Daniels for his commitment to showing multi-dimensional African-American characters, but judging from this film, I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s true. These characters are variations on the same stereotypes we’ve seen in countless other films. Shadowboxer is an awkward mess of themes and ideas that barely come together to form a cohesive, coherent narrative. Even the score is self-important. Maybe next time, Daniels will pay more attention towards coming up with an original story worth telling and less time throwing darts in the dark to see where they land. This broken record of a hitman movie is a serious misfire.