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Friday, August 4, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Shadowboxer" story knocked out by fussiness

Special to The Seattle Times

An original and brutal thriller with an intriguing, Oedipal subtext, "Shadowboxer" has a lot to recommend it. But it also has an insistently fussy and grandiose production design that mistakes lavish textures, brilliant colors and exotic backdrops for story atmosphere and style. The film is a triumph of taste over passion, and that's a shame considering the ambitions of "Shadowboxer's" script.

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Shadowboxer," with Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr., Stephen Dorff, Vanessa Ferlito. Directed by Lee Daniels, from a screenplay by William Lipz. 93 minutes. Rated R for violence, language, nudity and drug use. Meridian.

The film's first-time director, Lee Daniels, previously got a lot of notice producing a pair of dramas that explored, as with "Shadowboxer," the psychology of unexpected relationships. Those films were "Monster's Ball" (which garnered an Oscar for Halle Berry) and Kevin Bacon's "The Woodsman."

"Shadowboxer," like those other movies, is about a human ache for redemption.

Helen Mirren plays Rose, a ruthless assassin dying of cancer and spending her last days with her much younger, de facto spouse and junior partner in crime, Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr.). Rose raised Mikey after an extraordinary event in his troubled childhood, bringing him into the gun-for-hire business and walling him off emotionally by becoming his romantic interest as well as guardian.

Things change when Rose, hired by a thug (Stephen Dorff) to kill his pregnant girlfriend, Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito), spares her instead. Soon Rose, Mikey, Vickie and her infant son are living undercover in a lovely house. Rose finds final contentment in this instant family and, more profoundly, leaves behind some semblance of a normal life for Mikey, who has only known his insulated, incestuous bond with Rose.

The relationship dynamics in William Lipz's script are unique, to say the least, and ripe for stylistic exploration. But Daniels doesn't seem to have any intuition for it. His pretty pictures, gleaming surfaces, and tango music may convey something about the artifice of Rose and Mikey's lives together. But he doesn't know how to make any of that resonate with an audience.

Tom Keogh: tomwkeogh@yahoo.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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