I’m not a huge fan of sport themed movies. I don’t hate them, but let’s be real they typically only have two ways they can end. Either the team/person wins and it seems like the writers went with the easy way out; or the team/person loses and it seems like the writer was trying to be all dark and depressed. There are of course exceptions. Pride of the Yankees is one of my favorite movies EVER. I can’t watch it without crying like a baby, but that is for more personal reasons. I also love the Natural for the symbolism and imagery. I can name a few other great sports movies but overall when I see a trailer for a sport themed movie, it tends to fall lower on my must watch list.
That said, when I saw the previews for Southpaw, the latest Jake Gyllenhaal picture, I decided I wanted to see it. The trailer looked solid, and Gyllenhaal is usually really good when he is not trying to be an action hero….Prince of Persia anyone? So today I had three options of movies to see. Pixels with Adam Sandler (yeah, like that was going to happen), Paper Towns (because nothing screams a great movie like a teenage love story), or Southpaw. Southpaw it was.
And boy was that a sucker punch.
It’s not a horrible film, but it’s predictable, it has every boxing movie cliché you could imagine. The acting can’t overcome the script. And, with the exception of the boxing scenes, there is not one moment in the movie that rings true.
Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, the something weight undefeated champion of THE WOOOORRLLLD. Yeah, it’s got that ridiculous introduction for him. Rachel McAdams plays his street wise wife, Mo, who obviously has a heart of gold. They are the perfect couple that came up through “the system” in Hell’s Kitchen and have made good. They have your standard cute little daughter who is wiser than her years. Hope has a manager who pretends to a friend, but you see the smarm from a mile away.
Anyway stuff happens, the wife dies (that’s not a spoiler if you’ve seen the trailer) and Hope spirals out of control. Somehow with the wife dying he loses his fortune and the system that he spent his life beating beats him and he loses his daughter to a judge who is the stereotypical hard ass judge….oh hold it they cast against type and had it be a female hard ass judge. Hope gets himself a new trainer, that is a gruff guy who doesn’t train pro boxers because of a bad past experience. Blah, blah, blah. The whole script is so predictable, if you don’t see the next scene coming this must be your first sporting movie ever. It’s just so trite, it makes superhero movies seem daring and original.
I’m not sure if the acting is overacting or just mediocre, because the actors are trying to bring something to a script that doesn’t give them anything. Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance. I guess. But in my opinion he made a really bad choice from the onset with the first scene between Hope and Mo. We are told that Mo is the brains of the couple, so Gyllenhaal decides to play Hope like he is almost simple minded. I’m not for sure if he is going for the whole boxer who has been hit in the head one time to many thing or what, but it just helps reinforce the whole cliché thing they have going on. McAdams and the girl who play the daughter are probably the best thing in the movie, but their roles aren’t hard to pull off. The daughter has to be cute and smart, with the ability to look sad on cue. And McAdams, has to be smart and love her husband and have a great death scene. The other players are all central casting choices as well. 50 Cent plays the smarmy manager. Forest Whitaker plays the gruff but helpful new trainer. And all do it with words and emotions and acting type stuff. But nobody brings anything new and exciting to the screen.
Like I said earlier, the boxing sequences are well shot, but they don’t bring anything new to the screen. Rocky, Raging Bull, Rocky 5, The Fighter, Rocky 26, they’ve all done great boxing sequences so these aren’t even special enough to warrant watching the movie. There’s a great scene of Hope preparing for his big fight put to a great new Eminem song, but I’m pretty sure that we have seen the boxer preparing for his fight choreographed to great music. In fact one or two of them might be iconic scenes, and make you think someone’s “Gonna Fly Now” or has “The Eye of a Tiger.” So again nothing new.
I guess the point of this review is to say that if your options are an Adam Sandler film, a teenage romance film, or Southpaw, wait for the new Mission: Impossible film next weekend. It will probably be somewhat predictable, but with great special effects.