"I take orders from the Octoboss."


tn_shadowboxerI never heard of Lee Daniels before he got a best director nomination for PRECIOUS, BASED ON etc. Turns out PRECIOUS… is his third movie as a director, SHADOWBOXER is his first, and Kent M. Beeson insisted in the comments that I had to see it.

I’ve seen a few interviews and things with Daniels, and he seems like a nice, normal guy. Based on these movies alone, though, you’d have to assume the motherfucker is nuts.

SHADOWBOXER is a very serious crime drama. It has some colorful characters and intense violence, but it’s not an action movie at all. It’s focused on the characters, and with its lush colors, weakness for soft lighting and classical music it’s a similar style to PRECIOUS. It’s the story of a male-female team of assassins who, when hired to take out a crime boss’s pregnant wife (Vanessa Ferlito from DEATH PROOF) decide instead to deliver the baby and take mother and child into hiding.

The two killers have a strong attachment, they take care of each other, and they are lovers. And, uh, they’re played by Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Helen Mirren. Hahem.

mp_shadowboxer(See, you’re thinking “actually this sounds pretty generic” until I got to the part where the guy from BOAT TRIP is banging THE QUEEN.)

Their first scene together goes something like this:

MIRREN: I’m so embarrassed. I was thinking about God today.
CUBA: Of course  you were. You’re dying, Rose.
MIRREN: (something something)
CUBA: It’s just cancer, Rose. It’s just cancer. (pause) Will you bathe me?

(CUT TO Helen Mirren sponging off Cuba Gooding in the bath tub.)

See, that’s the kind of party this is. At first it seems like Gooding and Mirren are lovers, until you find out she dated his dad and has taken care of him since he was 7. So maybe they’re just affectionate, I got the wrong idea. But then there’s a scene where they listen to Nas and striptease for each other (this is the first movie I’ve seen that has Academy Award winner Helen Mirren swinging on a stripper pole) and yep, turns out they’re lovers. More than once during this movie it turns out that they are lovers.

Stephen Dorff, the motherfucker that’s always tryin to ice skate uphill, plays the crime boss. I’m not even sure what line he’s in, just that he’s constantly having everybody killed for crossing him. We first meet him sticking a pool ball in a guy’s mouth and half a pool stick up the ass. The guy claimed to have fucked the boss’s wife, which is why he wanted her killed. Just in case this guy’s not lying. Just to be safe.

That’s how he is, he just kills everybody. The witnesses in the pool hall: killed. The people talking in the hallway while he’s fucking: killed. The guys he pays to guard his wife when he’s paying other guys to kill his wife: killed. Several other characters played by celebrities: killed. This is not a safe movie to be in.

One of the big motifs in the movie is ass. Gooding and Dorff both show their ass during sex scenes. Another guy bends over and presents his ass for Cuba-in-drag-pretending-to-be-a-prostitute. Three different heterosexual sex scenes are from behind. Ferlito fingers herself while staring at Gooding’s ass while he’s taking a shower. I guess this makes the movie stand out, it’s not a bad thing. It just loves asses. That and older ladies.

You know, ever since AMERICAN PIE you always hear about “MILFs,” which seems to be any naked girl above the age of 26. And now they’re always talking about “cougars,” which for some reason is a positive term for older ladies who partake in the younger men. Maybe this movie was meant to tap into the zeitgeist on that one. Cuba and Helen aren’t the only mismatched couple either, there’s also the sleazy doctor and nurse pair of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Mo’Nique. You know what Mo’Nique’s character is named? Precious. Isn’t that a damn shame if this is the same Precious? Poor girl grew up to look just like her horrible mother. And now she’s stealing pills. Plus she walks in on her boyfriend going down on a patient, and he doesn’t even try “I slipped” or any of the obvious excuses.

It does kind of seem like the same world as PRECIOUS. The apartment where the young version of Cuba’s character Mikey was abused could be in the same building where  Precious was – same dingy walls and colorful lights. It has a similar disorienting feel because the violence is off screen (Daniels says on the commentary that he’s too disturbed to shoot men committing violence against women because his dad was abusive).

And like PRECIOUS it’s about this cycle. Mikey’s dad abused him, killed his mother. It seems like the movie might think Mikey and Rose’s relationship is romantic, but I think most of us will agree it’s abusive too. You can’t fuck somebody you’ve raised from the age of 7, come on lady. You know this rule. This is not an obscure one I’m pulling out of a hat. Mikey is basically turned into a killing robot. He does whatever Rose tells him, unquestioningly. The few times his emotions get to him he curls up like a baby. He only seems like an adult when he’s killing or exercising.

That’s one thing I should mention: whenever they need a transition they cut to him training on a punching bag. You get it? He’s the shadowboxer! You thought it would be some kind of corny metaphor, but it’s only a metaphor for him practicing boxing. He’s not a fighter or anything. But at the very end he takes on the bad guys using the power of punching. When people need punched, there’s only one man for the job: SHADOWBOXER.

Gooding's blue-tinted period: If I had to guess which one of these was interesting enough to watch I would've gone with the Rowdy Herrintong/Tom Berenger joint
Gooding’s blue-tint period: If I had to guess which one of these was interesting enough to watch I would’ve gone with the Rowdy Herrington/Tom Berenger joint

In all fairness I must say that Gooding is good in this. He doesn’t talk much (IMDb says 37 lines total) and does no mugging. He’s 100% of the reason I never considered watching the movie before – a new DTV Cuba Gooding Jr. thriller seems to come out every month (LINEWATCH, THE DEVIL’S TOMB, HARDWIRED, etc.). I can’t think of an Oscar winner who ever fell off as hard as him before. He even replaced Eddie Murphy in a sequel to DADDY DAY CARE! How the fuck does  a man look himself in the mirror and take that job? Did they have to hide all his mirrors to get him to sign on?

The truth is that as ridiculous as SHADOWBOXER is his performance is good and it gave me some respect for him. But that doesn’t mean I don’t laugh when he’s disguised as a transvestite hooker and he executes his john but then he notices the blood splattered on a birthday card with little kid’s handwriting saying “I love you daddy” and then it cuts to him in his dress and makeup looking sad in the rain. Or when (ENDING SPOILER) he tells his adopted son that more bad people might come after them some day and the fresh-faced little boy says “We’ll kill ’em!” and Cuba’s overwrought face of torment seems to just barely hold in a scream of “NOOOO!!! THE CYCLE IS REPEATING ITSELF! HE IS ME!” Daniels knows how to get a really good performance out of him, but then sticks him in a context where it’s hard not to laugh.

There’s a funny making-of thing on the DVD. The producer, not amused, talks about his fight with Daniels over the zebra. Everybody thought it was not worth the expense to put a real zebra in the movie, but Daniels insisted on his vision. And he’s there to personally feed it a carrot when it arrives on set. Where in this movie could there be a zebra, you ask? I wasn’t sure either. Turns out they show it in front of Dorff’s house for about 2 seconds. I missed it the first time.

(Okay, admittedly that’s kind of cool that he has a zebra.)

I think Kent was right, this was a good idea to watch this, it makes me feel like I have a better grasp of where PRECIOUS is coming from. This poor guy is stuck on his bad childhood, and it’s probly therapeutic to make these movies. It’s not exploitation. I think he’s perpetuating the cycle of abuse through movies instead of putting it on the next generation. So that’s good. But just because he went through it doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing to put on screen. I hope he’ll get to a point where he can make movies that are meaningful to him without having to rub the world’s face in horribleness every time.

The movie seems very serious, and I don’t think I was supposed to be laughing. But the craziness that makes it laughable also makes it interesting. I’ve never seen a movie quite like this. I’ll give it that. I’ll remember this one.


This entry was posted on Thursday, February 18th, 2010 at 2:11 am and is filed under Crime, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Shadowboxer”

  1. SHADOWBOXER sounds like one of those movies that the fact they exist and got released as they are is the real DAMN here.

  2. Stephen Dorff’s best movie to date is the low budget “Botched”, in which he plays a jewel thief sent to
    Moscow to retrieve a gold cross.

  3. Hilarious and insightful as always. I think we need to compile a definitive list of most botched post Oscar careers. Where would we rank, say, a Mira Sorvino?

  4. Damn, I never picked this up for the same reason. Stupid cynicism – I must watch every CBJ movie as penance starting with this one. Gonna be a long week.

  5. I got to see a sneak preview of this at an awesome screening room with leather couches and end tables. They were definitely trying to bribe me with the deluxe treatment. “Laughable but interesting” was pretty much my thoughts at the time. That and “There’s no way this thing is ever coming out in theaters.” I was right on both counts, but now I kind of want to see it again. I forgot all about the zebra. It’s like that random ostrich in TRANSFORMERS.

  6. MikeOutWest, is BOTCHED better than THE GATE? Because as far as I’m concerned Dorff peaked when he was 10.

  7. Lets put it this way – Botched features a moment where a guy is decapitated by a giant pair of scissors, and
    muppet rats which steal the head. Dorff is more of a believable badass than he was in Blade, and it features
    Sean Pertwee as a blinged up russian mafia boss. There’s a little too much running around bland corridors but it
    carries a real dark sense of humour.

  8. this sounds…….really, really weird, I now have to check it out

  9. Isn’t botched like a From Dusk Til Dawn type movie where it starts as a crime drama and turns into a slasher film?

    The only thing I remember from Shadowboxer is that it got a 20% at RT.com and I believe it made a number of worst ofs that year.

  10. Helen Mirren is a gorgeous woman and a great actress. It’s only in the last few years that she’s started looking her age. She has taken off her clothes in many movies throughout her career and it’s been a pleasure every time.

  11. Something for the Mirren admirers – the cover to the UK HMV exclusive DVD from the British Film Institute looking at their Flipside movies, some of which may well interest the crowd here:


    That lovely blonde on the cover is indeed her, in her first film role in arthouse obscurity Herostratus. Amazing.

  12. Yep. That’s her. Additionally, Kim Newman is a fantastic author and commentator on horror, sci-fi, and obscure british cinema. A true pulp authority.

  13. Vern, Helen Mirren (the queen) appeared in the porn classic Caligula. Ironically she played a Queen in there (actually an empress). So you see pole dancing and royalty are not all that far removed. Ask any citizen from a monarchy.

  14. I became a fan of Lee Daniels when he was interviewed in “Indy Sex” and talked about tricking the MPAA into allowing his preferred amount of Stephen Dorff wang by giving them way more graphic shots the first time he submitted it. I’m always a fan of directors who think ahead.

    On a totally different matter: I met Cuba Gooding Jr. in Vegas once while he was out partying and he bought my buddy and I shots and hung out for like an hour. In that hour I learned that Cuba Gooding Jr. is fun as fuck when he’s in Vegas.

  15. Vern, you may want to check out Helen Mirren in all her glory in THE COOK THE THIEF HIS WIFE AND HER LOVER (1989). It’s a brave performance in a … challenging film.

  16. Sounds good Darryll, but I only watch movies with zebras in them. Sorry.

  17. I love that the DVD cover has an interesting twist on the gun as a phallic symbol. Its a terrible cover design but how many times do you get to see Helen Mirren standing in for Cuba Gooding Jr’s erect dick?

  18. Ha! Then I can highly recommend MADAGASGAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA. I hear there is hot zebra on horse action in the deleted scenes.

  19. I think there was a zebra in THE COOK, THE THIEF… I mean, it had everything else in it. Cooks. Thieves. Wives. Lovers. Murders. Zebras. Death by pica. Sex. Books. Cannibalism. A young Tim Roth.

  20. SHADOWBOXER has been my pick for most insanely entertaining bad movie of the last couple years. I’ve been trying to get everyone I know to watch it. It’s impossible not to laugh your ass off at the campfest that is PRECIOUS once you’ve seen the mindboggling crapfest that is SHADOWBOXER. This movie should’ve been a career ender, but instead this guy Daniels, who has the artistic discernment of Ed Wood, is up for an Oscar for a movie made after this one. How he ever got handed a budget for anything other than a mattress outlet commercial after SHADOWBOXER came to light I’ll never know. Awesome, and depressing, all at the same time!

    Bonus: it’s available on Netflix Streaming, so you can watch it 14 times a day on continuous loop for the rest of your life if you want to.

  21. Jam: … a naked Hellen Mirren, an angry Gambon, a sex scene in a truck full of meat, some poor bastard who gets pissed on, force feeding a book, boy soprano mutilation … pretty much the perfect date movie!

  22. But the zebra was in Greenaway’s A ZED & TWO NOUGHTS. The Frances Barber character fucks it.

  23. VERN: {{If I had to guess which one of these was interesting enough to watch I would’ve gone with the Rowdy Herrington/Tom Berenger joint}}

    The poster for that is also the only one that doesn’t feature Gooding’s mildly retarded look of torment. Coincidence? Not for me; wondered if maybe that was a factor for you, too.

  24. Helen Mirren in Micheal Powell’s AGE OF CONSENT. Rent it. Whoo yeah…

  25. VERN : Please watch and review WRONG TURN AT TAHOE… I was going to send you an email about this. I’d like to read your thoughts on it.

    If you review it, maybe the folks over here will see it. It’s fucking garbage by the way.

  26. sounds like a must see?

  27. Someone actually recommended it to me as a great film, Vern. It actually had a good cast but how anyone thought it was going to work is beyond me. Like I said though, i’d like to read your thoughts on it. In fact, it’s such classic DTV fodder that i’m surprised you hadn’t seen it already.

    It’s pretty violent. Some guy gets beaten to death with a baseball bat and a woman gets her intestines ripped out… Now that I think about it, maybe it’s the best movie i’ve ever seen… Shit.

  28. I thought you had me at ‘the guy from BOAT TRIP is banging THE QUEEN.’ But no. ‘It just loves asses. That and older ladies.’ That does it for me right there.

  29. “Shadow Boxer” most sick movie ever. Congratulations to all the women who target young men for sex…Women start with friendship and then trap young men into sex…pretty disgusting!!! Old Women will love this movie because they are up for this kind of fantasy. Yes there are still Women like Helen Mirren who just say to young men – No matter what age you are just be with me for sex…haha..God save these type of Women who are so manipulative and trap young men..

  30. “One of the big motifs in the movie is ass.” – classic Vern!

    I saw this before PRECIOUS BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE so my only context was Cuba Gooding Jr thought this was his comeback.

    I remember what strikingly bad hitmen they seemed to be. They go in through the front door. I suppose that could be badass but it seemed like they maybe should have used some secet tactics or something.

  31. “One of the big motifs in the movie is ass.” – Vern

    “I got a lot of flak for the amount of Cuba’s ass in this, and I think that what they don’t understand, it’s really not about the ass.” – Lee Daniels

  32. […] master-of-disguise hitman, played by a Russian doll of layered celebrities like Cuba Gooding Jr. (Shadowboxer) and Lady Gaga (known for playing Girl at Swimming Pool #2 [uncredited] in episode 35 of The […]

  33. I saw Machete Kills last night. The fake trailer that precedes it may make you wish Rodriguez had made THAT movie instead, but you can’t jump from “A” to “C” without bumping into “B” (you’ll see, if you watch the movie). Dumb fun, much like the first, with William Sadler, Amber Heard and Mel Gibson clearly catching the spirit of the thing. The Goggs turns up, but his appearance is regrettably brief.

    Still, something tells me it’s gonna get its ass handed to it by Captain Phillips and the spiritual juggernaut that is Gravity….. so don’t hold out too much hope for part tres of the Machete Trilogy. Bummer, hosses.

  34. […] the three territories. In interviews he seems like a nice, normal guy, but come on man, I’ve seen SHADOWBOXER. His style is an entertaining type of puzzling on that one and PRECIOUS, less so on THE PAPERBOY, […]

  35. ^^^^^^ what is up with this guy copying the entire review for Lee Daniels’ The Butler and posting it on vote-often.com.

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