The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Shadowboxer (2005)

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As we move through Cuba Gooding Jr.'s DTV oeuvre, we find this potential gem. It grossed about $300,000, meaning it had a very limited theatrical run; and with the great cast, and the fact that it was directed by Lee Daniels, it looked like a shoe-in for one of those fell through the cracks kind of deals.

Shadowboxer has Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. as a pair of assassins. Mirren is both his adopted mother and his lover, but she's dying of cancer, and Gooding hasn't accepted the fact that he may have to do without her. That's when they both are hired to do a hit for crime boss Stephen Dorff, involving wiping out pretty much his entire gang, and his pregnant wife. Mirren, though, takes pity on the pregnant wife, especially when the girl's water breaks in front of her and she has to deliver the baby. This puts in motion a series of events where Mirren and Gooding take the girl and the baby to a remote location and tell Dorff that she's dead. From there, Mirren's life is ending, and Gooding wants her all to himself, not wanting to share her with the girl and the baby. And there's still Stephen Dorff out there too.

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So if you didn't guess from the synopsis, this is based on the Oedipus Complex, only it strays from the usual paradigm by having the friction come not with the young man choosing the normal life with the young girl over the older woman, but instead the young man wanting to maintain the status quo with his older lady, and her wanting the normal life with the younger girl. For the first hour or so, this works well, with not only the interplay between Mirren and Gooding, but also the chilling nature of some of Gooding's kills-- the one with Macy Gray especially. Throw in Dorff as a great baddie, and supporting parts by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mo'Nique, and things were looking pretty good. But then it comes off the rails a bit, devolves into a paint-by-numbers bad Noir-ish yarn, and the only attempt to raise it from that baseness is to go either macabre, weird, or both, all of which feels grafted on. I get why the film went in the direction it did, because it had a specific ending falling in with the Oedipal paradigm that it wanted, but with a 93 minute running time, to have as a big a chunk as 30 minutes of it be blah, really detracts from the rest of it too much for me, which was too bad, because I really wanted to like it.

This is an interesting area for Mr. Gooding Jr.'s career, because you have three or four like this, extremely limited release films that made a couple hundred thou then went to video; then he moves onto Norbit and Daddy Day Camp, and that's it, DTV and a few small parts in big screen flicks from there on. This is an interesting one, though, because it's at the very start of that, and it has three Oscar winners-- though at the time Gooding was only who had won yet. I gotta think that Lee Daniels and his recent success with Precious will call back Gooding and get him in one of his films. Of course, we don't want Gooding to leave just yet, he still has a movie with Dolph Lundgren to make.

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Who'd'a thunk we'd be reviewing a flick with Helen Mirren in it? I guess if you review these movies enough you'll find almost anybody. I want to be able say that she's too good for this movie, that she way out acted everyone, but I can't. Yes, she was great, but so were Cuba, Dorff, Gordon-Levitt, and Mo'Nique. The talent alone almost elevated this to that next level, but again, it was let down by a lackluster last half hour.

Stephen Dorff makes an excellent baddie. I'm not sure if we've ever covered that on here before. He actually won for best villain at both the Blockbuster Movie Awards and MTV Movie Awards for Blade. (Yes, I know those aren't real award shows, just excuses to get celebrities into a room to sell ads.) It's ironic then that this is the first Dorff film we've done where he plays a villain, the other three having him as a hero. Wonders never cease here at the DTVC.

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I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which I think I brought up before in The Road Killers, a Christopher Lambert flick we did about 2 years ago. He's much better here as the doctor who does work for the underworld. His character also carries on a relationship with Mo'Nique. All of it was really cool, and enhanced the film, only to fall off in a very predictable plot development, something we saw coming miles away once the film shifted into blah mode at the hour mark.

All right, I know most of the DTVC audience will not enjoy this due to the enormous lack of action. An attempt to turn the Oedipal paradigm on its ear through Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr.'s relationship is probably better suited for my Tumblr blog; but it's near DTV existence makes it prime for review here, plus its packaging makes it look like it's marketed to the DTV action market. Either way, it doesn't work, and I guess the only issue is how much it doesn't work for you.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0396857/

10 comments:

  1. This film is certianly an interesting failure whic could've worked but sadly dosen't. You should also check out Gooding's other limited theatrical release called "Dirty" He does a great job of playing a slimy corrupt cop in that film.

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  2. Is Dirty a good one venom? I've got that in a three pack with End Game and Hero Wanted but haven't checked any of them out yet.

    You are right Matt that the cover for this one yet again targets the action crowd. I would be annoyed if I got this to review for EA and found little action in it. That's the game we play though, isn't it?

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  3. I've got Dirty lined up next, as it's his last one on Watch Instantly. And yes, that is the game we play, for every good one, there's at least one bad one-- maybe more-- but when the good ones are good, it's so worth it, isn't it?

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  4. Dirty was pretty good enough, superior to this film anyways.

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  5. When you think about it, most STV movies are marketed as 'action' movies. It probably just makes them easier to sell?
    I quite liked this movie (but can totally agree, that it tailed-off in it's final third....which seems to be a common factor in STV movies, and probably the reason they bypass cinemas?)

    I've thought about reviewing this one before, but once again, you've beaten me to it (I guess there's a warped kind of sixth sense when reviewing STV stuff) I don't think my review would have differed from yours (only my lack of eloquence)

    I'm gonna have to dig out some real obscure stuff to review in the near future?

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  6. You know, I think the fact that it wasn't exactly an action movie, and thus couldn't be marketed as such, was what made it fall through the cracks-- though the relationship between Mirren and Gooding probably turned people off too. Because it was so good to start with, I might have been tougher on it for becoming run-of-the-mill. And it seems like movies become DTV/STV for a variety of reasons, but the quality of it is often the last thing that does it. I have to imagine with this one, had it been run-of-the-mill throughout, it probably would've fared better with the studios. And I agree, action or horror, everything DTV is marketed as one of those.

    And sorry to beat you to this one, I only did it because I wanted to get in some more Gooding, especially after I did a Kilmer/Slater flick this week, and I like Mirren and Gordon-Levitt. I used to post in advance what I was going to review, but I found the comments sections to other movies were filled with "why are you gonna do that one? Such and such is a WAY better movie by him, IMO" or something like that. I figured this way I'd confine the negative comments to the actual review itself, instead of let someone spread it all over multiple posts. Don't let what I do determine what you do though, I'd love to see your review on this or any movie me or anyone else has done.

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  7. Good review! This wasn't that bad. The whole cast put in decent performances. Looking forward to your take on Dirty.

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  8. Thanks, and yeah, I agree, especially about the cast. The Dirty review will probably come in a month or so, give or take-- that'll give you some time Lee if you want a crack at it before me ;-)

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  9. Caught this at an art-house theater back in the summer of '06. The way this movie had been sold in the trailer and movie poster, I thought I was in for a serious noir-type joint.

    It could be those kinds of expectations that left me rather dazed afterward; it's such an oddball movie, one that felt/looked like a Larry Cohen script directed by Adrian Lyne. It even has that entertainingly bugnuts Making It Up As We Go Along feel of a Cohen joint.

    Anyway, I thought it was pretty funny that Precious' flashbacks look a lot like Gooding Jr.'s flashbacks in Shadowboxer. Must be a Lee Daniels trademark, well that and straight-up WTF-ery.

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  10. I agree, and I would've liked this movie more had it stuck with that, but that last half-hour had devolved into too something too run of the mill, so we went from something way outside the box, to something I'd seen too many times before.

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