Once upon a time, Malaika brought us a little film by Lee Daniels called Lee Daniels’ Shadowboxer. Umm, OK, technically it was only called Shadowboxer, but pretty much once you put your own name into the title of your film, there’s no going back, right Lee? And after sitting on it for…over six months (and no, for the record, that is not even nearly the longest that a movie has languished on my DVR before me finally getting to it) I’m going to be live-reviewing it.
But first I need some popcorn, and maybe a lot of booze, because I know how this one ends and I need something to dull the pain. OK, here goes.
Tragically, this movie has absolutely zero to do with the fantastic Fiona Apple song of the same name. If you really need to watch something called “Shadowboxer”, why not watch that video on YouTube? It’s about 90 minutes shorter, and it’s much better. But I can’t do that. I have to watch it. It’s my burden. It opens with a terribly useless scene which serves only to establish that when Cuba Gooding Jr. was a child, his biological father was apparently a hit man. See, because Cuba turns out to be a hit man, too. But do we really care that his father was a hit man? No! It doesn’t make anything more poignant. Hell, nothing is poignant. I know how this one ends.
Cut to grown-up hit man Cuba and aged hit (wo)man Helen Mirren bemoaning her terminal cancer. He asks her to give him a sponge bath; she obliges. See, Cuba and Helen are banging. And I guess that’s not a big deal, because, I mean, hey she’s 23 years his senior (in real life) but that’s not so weird, right? Yeah, but I know how this one ends.
On account of her impending death, Cuba and Helen decide to take one last job – hired by the zebra-owning psychotic criminal Stephen Dorff to knock off his very pregnant wife because he thinks she’s gotten a bit on the side. As you would expect, the “one last job” has a bit of a kink in it. This kink is that when wifey’s water breaks as the death blow is about to be dealt, Helen goes soft and decides to birth the baby – that hit man/midwife combo is rare these days, so kudos. (As a useless note, it turns out that a younger Helen wanted to be a doctor to save lives, but then ended up a hit man. That’s, um, ironic. OK, Alanis Morissette would not really see it quite that way, and I suppose that Ethan Hawke from Reality Bites would argue with his excessively-narrow definition, but according to this me-approved definition, it does apply:
The character of the statement made or the outcome of the situation is opposed or tangential to the supposed principles of the person/people making the statement or the situation in which the action takes place or to its intended outcome.
Am I trying to talk around this movie? Well, remember, I know how this movie ends.
Oh geez. This movie has Baby Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Not-Precious* before Lee Daniels made an eponymous movie based on a different character of the same name. He likes them eponymous movies, don’t he? Anyway, Baby Joseph is the underworld doctor, and Helen and Cuba call him for some post-natal care. Of course, seeing the mama, he knows that she is supposed to be “dead” mama, but he can keep a secret. Also Baby Joseph the underworld doctor subtly drops the movie’s bombshell #1. Helen is Cuba’s mother. Well, um, stepmother. Common law. But still. Remember, I know how this movie ends.
Helen decides that they’re going to be “keeping” the mother and baby. This naturally is a pretty dicey proposition because they were supposed to kill her, and since this is a movie, at some point crazy-ass Stephen Dorff is going to figure this out. I mean, already the wife’s best friend Macy Gray is asking too many questions and Cuba has been given an additional contract to off her – while a Macy Gray song plays in the background, no less. That’s really kinda weird. But probably not ironic, oddly enough.
So they rent an out-of-the-way place and help “dead” mama raise the kid. Side note – as a real estate agent, why in the world would you tell a client who is a perfect stranger “I didn’t know you were into wigs”? Of course you didn’t know! You don’t even know her! Geez, write sensible dialogue, Will Rokos!
All right, I’m OK now. Well, no, I’m not, because I know how this movie ends. I don’t know, maybe the movie will end differently this time. I can always hope.
Oh, for the love of all that is holy, they’re having a sex scene. No, they’re doing it again! AND IT GETS WORSE – I KNOW HOW THIS MOVIE ENDS! With a flashback to when he was 7 and the stepmom was winking at him right in the middle of it all. At his dad’s funeral. Which happened because she shot the guy in the back when he was beating Baby Cuba. WHY ARE YOU FLASHING BACK TO THIS DURING A SEX SCENE?!? Oh, there it is, he did it. He shot his terminally-ill stepmother in the head right at the point of…oh, let’s just say she died happy. And holy crap, there’s like 40 minutes left in this movie. That wasn’t even how it ended! I mean, for all intents and purposes all of my joy on this planet has ended, but the movie? No, it keeps on going like some demented Energizer Bunny. Oh geez, the “dead” wife watches Cuba shower and then paddles the canoe. THIS MOVIE IS SO NOT OK.
Finally it’s seven years down the road, and Cuba is still hitting marks and Baby Joseph (still baby-faced, unsurprisingly) gets caught cheating on Precious. And the angry Precious tattles to crazy-ass Stephen Dorff, because, like, that was a good idea. As a reward, maniacal Stephen Dorff kills Precious (hey, thanks for the tip!) and Baby Joseph. Then he finds the Cuba-“dead” mama-“dead” baby family and starts the inevitable torture scene. But only one garden-sheared finger in, Cuba of the nine fingers breaks loose and in the melee, Stephen Dorff’s biological son shoots Dorff in the back. Proud hit man stepdad has now been saved by two technically-not-family-members who shot an assailant in the back. And given what he did with the first one…at least the movie mercifully ends there.
The real miracle here is that not only did somebody allow Lee Daniels to make another movie after this one, but they let him put his own name in the title. This is not a movie for watching. This is a movie for laying down and avoiding.
*I originally thought this was Precious herself. The character’s name is Precious. But the actress’ name is Mo’Nique. Then Mo’Nique starred in Lee Daniels’ Next Movie (Precious), though she played the character of Mary and not of Precious, who was played by Gabourey Sidibe. Still, it’s a bit weird.
**This may be my favorite second-level pun I have ever made. By that I mean that it’s one of those puns where you have to go that extra step to get it. There’s a classic example where this sort of second-level pun was blown on one of the greatest witty comedy shows ever, MST3K (that’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 to those uninitiated). It’s from the episode “Manos, the Hands of Fate”, where the Master shouts angrily at his nightgowned harem: “From now on, there will be NO MORE INSOLENCE!” Joel replies in a pseudo-female voice: “But I NEED my insulin!” Come on, Joel. You really blew that joke. The proper joke would have been: “But I’m a DIABETIC!” Second-level pun. Much funnier.