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 KeeleyDirected 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.
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.
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.