SHADOWBOXER (Lee Daniels). 93 minutes. Opens Friday (August 25). For venues and times, see Movies, page 105. Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
There's good news and bad news concerning Shadowboxer . The good news is Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. Outstanding actors at the top of their game, they've got plenty of big emotional scenes to play. The bad news is the preposterous characters they play in a predictable story.
They're contract killers. Rose (Mirren) is Mikey's (Gooding) surrogate mother and his lover. That's psychological incest, but the script never goes there. It barely gets inside Mikey at all, yet he's the movie's centre. Rose is a plot mover, barely a character at all.
She's dying of cancer and can't bring herself to kill her current target, who's giving birth even as she aims the gun. She pushes Mikey into bonding with the kid when they all go into hiding, hoping he'll grow a soul.
Hit man with a heart of gold? Don't make me laugh. Seven years later, the kid's psycho mobster father (a good turn by Stephen Dorff ) turns up for precisely the climax we knew was coming.
It's pure emotional slush, and some of it works well. For the mushy bits, first-time director Lee Daniels (he produced Monster's Ball) pours on the lush visuals and music. Then he goes hard-edged graphic for the violence, which also sometimes works. But at those points it feels like a different movie. Worse, it expects us to get all dewy-eyed for a pair of brutal thugs.
But a few good scenes, some deadpan humour and good supporting turns make it an okay time-waster.