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Shadowboxer (0/10)

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 sexual content.

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 film.

July 13, 2006