Shadowboxer

First-time director Lee Daniels' seriously deranged slab of pulp about contract killers whose one last hit goes terribly wrong is a layer cake of weird and wild images married to a plot that's lurid, ludicrous and bizarrely hypnotic. It opens with psychotic crime lord Clayton (Stephen Dorff) brutally torturing to death an associate who made the grave mistake...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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First-time director Lee Daniels' seriously deranged slab of pulp about contract killers whose one last hit goes terribly wrong is a layer cake of weird and wild images married to a plot that's lurid, ludicrous and bizarrely hypnotic. It opens with psychotic crime lord Clayton (Stephen Dorff) brutally torturing to death an associate who made the grave mistake of insinuating that he slept with Clayton's wife, Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito). Clayton then takes out a contract on Vickie. But what if she's blameless?, right-hand goon Gerald (Tomy Dunster) asks. Doesn't matter — Clayton will just always have to wonder. The killers for hire are Rose (Helen Mirren) and her considerably younger lover, Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr.); they met when he was a child and she was his father's girlfriend, a relationship that ended badly for Mikey's dad. Rose has terminal cancer and is perpetually strung out on painkillers and alcohol, but her lethal reflexes are still sharp. At first the gig goes like clockwork: Mikey and Rose silently enter Clayton's oversized Philadelphia-area mansion, complete with a zebra grazing on the lawn, and while Mikey dispatches the guards, Rose creeps upstairs to Vickie's bedroom. Enter the complications: The terrified Vickie, nine months pregnant, scrambles clumsily to escape Rose, and her water breaks. Rose hesitates briefly and then puts down her gun to deliver Vickie's baby. She and Vickie take off with mother and child in tow, stopping for a medical consultation with an underworld doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his nurse and lover, generously proportioned crackhead Precious (Mo'Nique), eventually settling into an off-the-wall parody of suburban family life that casts Mikey and Vickie as parents and Rose as doting, incongruously sexy grandma. But the past is always lurking, threatening to disturb their idyll and shatter their fragile illusion of contented normalcy. Daniels, whose producing credits include MONSTER'S BALL (2001) and THE WOODSMAN (2004), has style to burn, and his thoroughly engrossing sideshow falls squarely in the tradition of THE SALTON SEA (2002), SPUN (2002) and RUNNING SCARED (2006). The exhibits include rape by pool cue, Mirren's sultry hip-hop striptease, Mo'Nique in a fire-engine-red corset, an erotic mercy killing committed in a swirl of rose petals, Macy Gray as a woozy barfly, and small boys with big guns. Despite the edifying square-up — moral lessons about family, the legacy of violence and the tenacious power of love — the appeal is freak-show all the way.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: R
  • Review: First-time director Lee Daniels' seriously deranged slab of pulp about contract killers whose one last hit goes terribly wrong is a layer cake of weird and wild images married to a plot that's lurid, ludicrous and bizarrely hypnotic. It opens with psychoti… (more)

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