Review By: Staff
Shadowboxer is a very strange film.
Where to begin when trying to describe its strangeness? What about the fact that Cuba Gooding Jr and Helen Mirren play two assassins in love? What about the fact that they're also stepson and stepmother? How about Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a doctor? And what about the fact that Mo'Nique plays his girlfriend? The strangest fact of all is that anyone in their right mind would still cast Cuba Gooding Jr as a leading man.
It all comes from Lee Daniels, the producer of Monster's Ball and The Woodsman who makes his directorial debut with this horrendously misguided piece of pulp fiction. Mikey (Gooding Jr) is a heartless assassin whose only priorities are killing people for money and looking after Rose (Mirren), his lover and surrogate mother who happens to also be dying of cancer.
Their isolated world is threatened when they are given the task of killing the pregnant wife of a crime lord ( Stephen Dorff ). Rose falters and decides she will take in the woman and her unborn baby, much to the chagrin of Mikey. They start a small, dysfunctional family together, always living in fear that they will be discovered.
I always say never trust a DVD case which makes up its own quote. According to the box for Shadowboxer, it's 'A Heart-Pounding Thriller'. Yet, this quote is never attributed to anyone other than the filmmakers themselves. I can happily attest the fact that Shadowboxer is not a thriller and never once did my heart pound. What my heart did do was lie heavy, with the portentous weight of this over-stuffed turkey.
From the beginning, it's clear that director Lee Daniels is under the impression he's making something rather special. Given his producing track record, he was probably convinced this would be another breakout indie scoring critical acclaim and awards galore. Someone on the crew who had some literacy should have read the script and warned him of its awfulness, saving him all the effort he has clearly put into this movie.
To be fair, Daniels does manage to create a certain atmosphere during some scenes. He's desperate to make a film noir and this is made clear by the incongruous 1940s music which filters throughout. To its credit, it's never a boring movie, mainly because it's one which is so eager to impress and shock with its 'rawness' and 'grittiness'. Cue some 'intense' torture scenes as Stephen Dorff does 'bad' things with a pool cue and hams it up so badly you'd swear his face started to resemble that of a pig's. We can tell he's a reckless madman because he shoots everyone and sings Christmas songs, even when it's not Christmas.
It's rather sad to see Helen Mirren reduced to such nonsense as this. It's a brave role for sure but only in the way that it would be brave
Shadowboxer is a fascinating mess of a movie. Veering from straight-to-video cheesiness to indie stylistics, it marks a career low for all involved. Except of course for Gooding Jr. whose entire career post-Jerry Maguire is a low. Included on the DVD is a Commentary from Lee Daniels and Cuba Gooding Jr. which is rather hilarious. Listening to Cuba describing his method of acting is just too ironic for words.
There's also The Making of Shadowboxer which does actually detail the specifics of why the zebra was used and the trouble it did indeed cause to get said zebra, if anyone cares. It also shows that the cast and crew seemed to be having a whale of a time on set. Good for them.
The film really is only of interest to those who want to see long, lingering shots of Gooding Jr's ass or those masochists who enjoy poor characterization and pretentious dialogue. It's not without entertainment for its sheer, unabashed weirdness and certainly won't bore but anyone expecting 'A Heart-Pounding Thriller' should really read the fine print.
Movie Grade: D
DVD Features Grade: D+
Overall Grade: D