Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Shadowboxer (2006)

I have no idea what was going through producer Lee Daniels's head when he decided to make this script his directorial debut, but it must have been a fascinating process. Somehow, he must have convinced himself he could find a way to reconcile the trash signifiers littered about the story with his Indie Tradition-of-Quality impulses that led to Monster's Ball and The Woodsman. Something about the convoluted tale, involving hitperson partners played by Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren who are not only lovers but stepmother and stepson as well as the fallout from a botched hit on a pregnant woman, must have spoken to him, and he thought to himself, "Ah! I can transform this into boundary-pushing art!" Oh, how wrong he was. Daniels tried his hardest to make this respectable, but this thing is crazier than a shithouse rat in the summer sun. Daniels's heavy solemnity keeps the lunacy from soaring for a while, so that Shadowboxer appears at first to be the kind of funereal junk that is both completely ridiculous and not ridiculous enough. But at the fifty-minute mark, the floodgates burst with a goofy, overheated sex scene between Gooding Jr. and Mirren, and there's not much one can do besides gape in awe at the madness that washes out during the aftermath. Mo'Nique smoking crack? Stephen Dorff shooting people while wearing nothing but a condom on his flopping cock? Cuba in drag? Dorff singing "O Christmas Tree"? Another sex scene between Mirren and Gooding Jr. that defies all sense, logic and taste? It's all here in the second half of this fiasco, and there's more where that came from. Shadowboxer is pitched at a level of hysteria that can only be achieved by people who aim high and dream big. Maybe Daniels thinks he's saying something profound with this hilarious farrago. I think the true message is that one should beware of the vanity projects of hot young producers. (Also, there's the message that one should never ask Cuba Gooding Jr. to play stolid -- he looks like he's in the film against his will, possibly at gunpoint.)

Grade: D+


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