A film review by Craig J. Koban September 8, 2021


2021, R, 96 mins.

Jason Momoa as Cooper  /  Isabela Merced as Rachel  /  Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Amo Santos  /  Raza Jaffrey as Shay /  Adria Arjona as Amanda Cooper  /  Justin Bartha as Simon Keeley 

Directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza  /  Written Will Staples, Gregg Hurwitz, and Philip Eisner


The new Netflix action thriller SWEET GIRL has a lot of things it wants to say about its subject matter, but doesn't really have the scripting smarts to follow through on its lofty aims.  It wants to be a revenge style thriller involving a struggling everyman (well, in this film's case, AQUAMAN star Jason Momoa is the everyman...more on that in a bit) who takes aim at the corporate greed of a pharmaceutical company that denies his wife life saving medication, leading to her untimely and preventable death.  The premise here is timely and anger inducing enough (who wouldn't be pissed at companies denying human rights access to medical care?), but the longer SWEET GIRL progresses the more simplistically scripted it becomes in its central conflict, leading to an eleventh hour WTF plot twist that has to be - for lack of a better descriptor - one of the dumbest I've seen in a film as of late.  Too much of this thriller is sloppy, disorganized, and logic straining for my tastes. 

The story begins promisingly enough.  The hulking and brooding Momoa plays Ray, a loving and supporting husband to his wife Amanda (Adria Arjona) and teenage daughter in Rachel (Isabella Merced).  Their entire tightly knit family unit is changed forever when Amanda is diagnosed with cancer, and her only hope of survival is with taking an experimental drug that has a proven track record.  Sounds great, but when the corporation behind producing the drug, BioPrime, decides to - at the very last and inopportune minute - pull the drug off the market for murky and questionable reasons, Ray goes predictably off the rails.  Soon after, Amanda dies, leaving Ray a young widow with a grieving teenager daughter to continue to raise on his own.  What's particularly rage inducing for Ray is that the drug in question got FDA approval and was relatively affordable, that is until BioPrime executive Simon Keely (a lecherous Justin Bartha) pulls it out of circulation, and Ray suspects something extremely fishy.   

One night when Ray watches a talk show featuring the executive that's allowing call-ins from viewers he decides to call in and lambaste Simon for essentially killing his wife.  Perhaps not in the wisest of moves, Ray pulls a full Liam Neeson from TAKEN move on the wormy corporate stooge and tells him that he will find him...and kill him. 




The rest of SWEET GIRL involves Ray trying to make good on his promise of bloody comeuppance, despite his very public declaration that should have local police immediately hot on his tail.  Nevertheless, the ex-military and MMA trained widow (yup, pretty convenient) decides to wage all out war on BioPrime, and his suspicions of wrongdoing on their part are confirmed when a reporter doing a story on them is murdered right in front of his eyes.  What then emerges is an even more wild eyed and determined Ray doing whatever he can to get in and close to Simon without drawing attention to the law and keeping his daughter safe and sound in the process.  Even with the police keeping close tabs on Ray he also finds himself being targeted by a trained hitman (Manuel Garcia Rlfo) that the corporation has apparently hired to take him out swiftly and quietly.  Thankfully, Ray is trained to defend himself, as is his daughter in Rachel, but neither of them are bullet proof. 

On certain levels, Momoa is hardly the type of actor that comes across - as previously mentioned - like a vulnerable everyman that's been wronged.  Because he's such an imposing physical presence on screen - and because the screenplay goes out of its way to highlight his military training - there are very few moments in SWEET GIRL when you legitimately feel that Ray is in any danger of being killed.  I mean, this is Khal Drogo, for crying out loud.  But, having said that, the interesting initial angle to this character is that, yes, he's a highly competent solider that has to deal with a relatable family tragedy, and Momoa is quite good here at playing up to Ray's softer inconsolable side as his wife passes on.  Plus, he is vulnerable in the sense that he's not just going up against one person, but rather a whole corporation and economic system that puts everyone down, in one form or another.  It's one thing for Ray to go on a deeply personal DEATH WISH styled revenge killing spree against evildoers, but it's a whole other thing to go against billion dollar institutions and Big Pharma.  That's a bit more compellingly tricky.  At the very least, SWEET GIRL plays up to Momoa's strength's as an aggressive man of action here. 

And, to be fair, the villains of this film are thoroughly and contemptibly evil, making our rooting interest in Ray all the more soundly entrenched.  There's something quite sickening about big business exploiting dying people for high profits and people lacking easily accessible health care (at least in the U.S.) gives SWEET GIRL multiple levels of relevance.  The chief villain in Bartha, though, is pretty one note and lacking in nuance and complexity (he's good, though, at playing a loathsome weasel), not to mention that he's simply not a plausibly intimidating force that feels like a tangible threat to Momoa.  The longer that SWEET GIRL progresses the more disjointed and all over the map it becomes, which seems like its pilfering from multiple and better man-on-the-run/man-on-a-mission thrillers and mixing in all of those ingredients into one package.  That, and sometimes the logic of the film goes off the rails.  There are times when Ray seems easily susceptible to attack and damage, but then there are other times when he preposterously comes off as just as impervious to pain and injury as his DC super hero alter ego.  The stakes become less pronounced the longer the film goes son. 

The action sequences in particular represent a failure in clear execution.  Directed rather spastically by Brian Andrew Mendoza (making his feature film debut), the multiple donnybrooks on display here are borderline hard to watch, mostly because of the hyperactive hatchet job editing, sometimes impossible to decipher choreography, and overall lack of visual coherence.  SWEET GIRL goes on an awfully long list of modern action films that continue to make the cardinal blunder of thinking that thrusting the camera all over the place and cutting the action to death helps to sell the visceral impact of such moments.  The obsessive shaky cam histrionics is all over this film, making for an assault on the senses at times, which further stymies the action and stunts' overall effectiveness.  Why do action thrillers like this have to be so bloody choppy and chaotic, especially coming in the Golden Age of pure genre Renaissance efforts like the JOHN WICK trilogy?  SWEET GIRL's aesthetic is distractingly regressive. 

Speaking of regressive...this film's would-be shocking plot twist!  Geez.  How do I even begin to talk about this without engaging in blatant spoilers.  I'll try my best.  The worst thing that SWEET GIRL does is losing faith in the type of pure sensationalistic revenge tale it's trying to be, and in the latter sections it decides to mind screw with the audience that has committed to the journey withits characters by turning the entire film upside down on its head.  The film provides, shall we say, one direct point of view of Ray's steely eyed mission to right Big Pharma wrongs, only to then radically alter this POV that, when all is said and done, doesn't work at all.  In actuality, it's so head shaking in its silliness that it pretty much derails SWEET GIRL, and the film never fully recovers.  There's nothing wrong with films journeying towards large and unexpectedly payoffs, but this payoff never felt organic to what has come before and just seems shoehorned in for lazy shock effect.  That's a shame, because this thriller could have been enjoyed and passably recommended if it just stuck to its guns and fully harnessed its emotionally resonating premise.  SWEET GIRL is not so much terrible as it is terribly misguided, and its Shyamalanian story mechanizations in its final sections will lead to ample eye rolling in viewers.  There's simply nothing sweet about the creative lapses in judgment here. 

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