by Tony Medley
Cuba Gooding, Jr. continues
his descent into the depths of notoriety that he started with “Dirty
(2006),” a movie so profane it exceeded any known bounds of decency. In
“Shadowboxer,” he tells a story with enough in it to offend virtually
everybody, one way or another.
Mikey (Gooding) and Rose
(Helen Mirren) are vicious cold-blooded contract killers, in the employ
of Clayton (Stephen Dorff, a psychopath. Rose is also a pedophile,
although the movie isn’t explicit about it. But she killed Mikey’s
father, who killed Mikey’s mother, and that all happened when Mikey was
around 7-years-old. When we meet them they are lovers. Apparently Rose
raised Mikey and then bedded him. What are we to think? Pretty sick, if
you ask me.
This is no mere coincidence.
Gooding says that he thinks the film will attract “people who aren’t
afraid of controversy and think out of the box in terms of
relationships, but understand when they’re being exposed to something
truly great as a life lesson.”
Great as a life lesson?
Cold-blooded murder? Pedophilia? This isn’t a film about “thinking out
of the box.” This is a film that glorifies nihilism. It denies
conventional morality and the value of religious belief, which the
characters discuss and reject. In this film there is no right or wrong.
There is just the moment. No consequences for bad actions.
This film, shot in six weeks
in Philadelphia on a tight budget, shows it. It contains some pretty
awful acting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Dr. Don), who had a sparkling career
as a child star, brilliantly playing Tommy Solomon on the TV series “3rd
Rock from the Sun,” delivers his lines like he’s never read one in his
life. Macy Gray plays Neisha like a puppet.
All the lovers in this film
are bi-racial. The violence is graphic and gratuitous. Religion is
mocked. Morality is ignored. Mikey and Rose are pictured as sympathetic
characters, even as they are gunning people down in cold blood. Killing
is unemotional, the horror of it diminished by the way it’s handled. We
never get to meet or know the victims, so there is no sense of loss when
they are dispatched. We see them; bang! they’re dead with a bullet hole
between the eyes. No pain, no fear, no suffering, no emotion. One minute
they are minor characters; the next minute they are corpses.
The story is that Clayton
puts a contract on his pregnant wife, Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito), who
loves him. Mikey and Rose, who happens to be dying of cancer, are the
killers, but Rose relents when Vickie drops her baby just as Rose is
ready to plug her. Apparently we are supposed to accept the fact that
Rose, a brutal, heartless, sociopathic killer, can change because she is
about to kill a pregnant woman while she herself is dying of cancer.
It’s no go. A film without a premise is like a human without a heart.
There is no premise to this film other than first time director Lee
Daniels’ apparent point that contract killers are people, too, and
that’s not a premise.
In the olden days, Hollywood was
required to conform to the Code. Commencing in 1933, run by an employee
of the producers, Joseph I. Breen, the code prohibited nudity,
profanity, white slavery, miscegenation, "excessive and lustful
kissing," and "scenes of passion" that "stimulate the lower and baser
element." It also forbade Hollywood from glorifying crime or adultery.
To enforce the code, the Breen Office was empowered to grant or withhold
a seal of approval, and without a seal, a movie could not be played in
the major theater chains.
Some people didn’t
like the Breen Office or the Code. But nobody can seriously argue that
movies today are better than movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, all of which
were made under the Code. This film would never have even gotten to
story board in those days and that alone is a strong argument in favor
of a Code for motion pictures. I don’t know how this film didn’t get an
NC-17 rating just for its sex alone, because there’s one screen where
Clayton is having doggy-style sex with a big busted woman whose breasts
jump all around as he’s having his way with her. It can’t get much
closer than showing actual intercourse, with full frontal male nudity,
complete with condom. But, forget the sex (censors are too hung up on
sex and generally ignore violence, low moral tone, and societally
destructive points of view), the movie should be NC-17 based on its non
With its seemingly
happy ending, it’s just in your face movie-making by people with a moral
compass badly askew. There’s nothing remotely entertaining about this
July 13, 2006