Shadowboxer

Written by Kate Findley

Shadowboxer offers a little bit of everythingclassical music, incest, Helen Mirren doing a strip tease to a hip hop soundtrack, weighty themes such as Coming to Terms with Your Past, and, of course, boxing. Director Lee Daniels and writer William Lipz feel they should leave no subject untouched in their first, amateurish flick.

The film takes on different genres as well, combining the garish aesthetics of a B-action movie with the refinement of an Oscar-contending drama. The end product comes out looking like one of those zebra/donkey hybridsyou can see how it happened, but you dont know quite what to make of it.

Helen Mirren plays Rose, a female assassin, and Cuba Gooding Jr. is Mikey, her lover and partner-in-crime. Aside from an uncomfortable bathing sequence, the film never lives up to the squirm-inducing potential of this odd coupling, nor does it make much use of the interesting mesh of acting styles. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that just pairing these two actors on screen was odd enough.

As the movie opens, Rose, having recently discovered that she has terminal cancer, takes on one last mission. Her conscience seems clear, since her target is a man who is not only evil but also disgustingly perverse. To top it off, hes played by Stephen Dorff, who has “specialized” in giving unappealing performances.

Alas, all is not black and whitehe also has a beautiful pregnant wife, Vickie. Just as Rose breaks into Vickies mansion and is about to blow her away, Vickies water conveniently breaks. Rose helps Vickie give birth (miraculously no alarms have gone off yet), then convinces Mikey to kidnap the mother and baby rather than killing them.

Fixing up Vickie with a wig so that she looks like a blonde version of herself, Rose and Mikey hole up with mother and child in a quaint country home and begin a new life of peaceful domesticity. Shadowboxer then undergoes a bizarre tonal shift. Problem is, Daniels scattered direction never takes the time to establish the right tone, instead making feeble attempts to evoke other movies.

The child who stumbles upon a shootout that his mother and surrogate father are involved in recalls The Road to Perdition, and when Vickie describes how she is turned on by her husbands violence, we are reminded of a similar moment in GoodFellas. During a sex scene, an artsy long shot shifts in and out of focus, complete with swirling roses a la American Beauty.

Because Shadowboxer lacks the narrative consistency that would allow us to grasp the situations, these moments do not carry the weight that the aforementioned films do. We are never really in the movie; rather we are watching a procession of free-floating incidences with no emotional resonance.

Lipzs screenplay feels like a rough draft, spitting out scenarios onto the page without building up to them or following them through. The dialogue vacillates between servicing an obvious plot and making observations that grasping for higher meaning, of which the film is incapable.

Given the talented cast, as well as the involvement of accomplished editors Brian Kates (Tarnation) and William Chang (2046, In the Mood for Love), we can only speculate about what went wrong between the planning and execution of the film. With the exception of the acting, Shadowboxer is amateurish and incomplete on every level–a student film that was hastily thrown together right before the deadline.

While this is his directorial debut, Daniels is no newcomer to the film industry either. He produced Monsters Ball, which won Halle Berry a Best Actress Oscar, but obviously has not learned much from his director, or Marc Forster, particularly in exploring the dynamics of interracial relationships.

Every single couple in Shadowboxer is interracial, though without any commentary. Daniels has chosen not to make a big deal about race, but his character portrayals are not exactly colorblindMoNique plays a bootylicious sista, Macy Gray is a crackhead, and Stephen Dorff abuses his Hispanic wife.

The filmmakers are trying to say something about race, but it's unclear what exactly they want to say. The same could be applied to the film as whole, which is about many thingsburied resentment, old age, the effect of violence on childrenbut ends up saying nothing.