Shadowboxer (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The New York Times summed it up like this:

“Shadowboxer,” a gaudy thriller saturated in sex and violence, is an extravagance that leaves you with your mouth hanging open — partly in admiration of its audacity and partly in disbelief at its preposterousness.

How do you think this sounds:

  • Half of the movie is like Pulp Fiction - cavalier, glib movie gangsters doing movie gangster shit with an utter disregard for human life or dignity.
  • The other half is like Magnolia - people with intense emotions who spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning and value of life, and reflecting upon how their lives have been affected by the events of the past and the nature of their families.

It sounds pretty damned weird, if you ask me.

It gets weirder. Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. play partners in the assassination-for-hire business. To begin with, they seem like two of the least likely hitpersons on the planet, but it's much weirder than mere appearances, so fasten your seat belts. First, they are mother and son. Second, they are also lovers. Third, mom is dying of cancer. So it's your basic intergenerational, interracial, incestuous, dying assassins movie.

I know what you're thinking. "Not another one of those!"

The couple goes out on a multiple hit, and everything goes as planned until they come to the final target, a gangster's wife who is nine months pregnant. The psychological complication of the situation is caused by Mirren's cancer. Mirren simply can't bring herself to make the kill. Being so close to her own death, she is reconsidering her former estimation of the value of life. She commits to saving the mother and baby in much the same spirit shown by Roy Batty when he saved Deckard in Blade Runner's classic "tears in the rain" scene.  In fact, the wife's water breaks just as the assassins enter her bedroom, and Mirren actually ends up midwifing the baby.  Gooding and Mirren then must take the new mother and her baby away for safekeeping, since it was the woman's husband who hired the hit. The assassins tell their gangster client that his wife is dead and buried. Of course, the wife can never again be seen in public since the rabid gangster would kill all of them if he knew the truth, so the four of them head far out to the countryside, where they assume aliases and become an odd family unit for many years, even after Mirren's death.

You can probably guess that they will not continue in blissful suburbia forever, but I can take it no further. you'll have to get the details of the denouement as you watch it.

Critics didn't know what to make of this film, which was just released to theaters a month ago. The people who like movies like Pulp Fiction found this one pretentiously draggy during the philosophical portions and the emotional family scenes. The critics who like movies like Magnolia were grossed out by all the explicit sex and violence. For example, Stephen Dorff, as the insane mob boss, kills one guy after ramming a broken, jagged pool cue up his ass. Dorff later shows off an erect penis after being interrupted in coitus. Cuba Gooding has several nude scenes, including a hot and tender sex scene with Helen Mirren which ends with him blowing her brains out with a revolver while she climaxes. (It's an act of mercy. She's dying painfully.) Moviegoers were as dumbfounded by the tone-shifts as the critics, and the film never found a theatrical audience.

Y'know what? I like this film. I would have liked it more if it had been filled with daring female nudity instead of man-parts, but I still liked it.

It is over-the-top and surreal and more than a bit mad, and the Stephen Dorff character is a completely unbelievable one-dimensional villain, but the film works for me, despite or because of those elements. As the Times pointed out, the extravagant action may impress you or make you laugh, but it won't bore you, and it's difficult to predict. Furthermore the film's emotional manipulation is powerful and skillful enough to generate the responses it hopes for. This is the first film for director Lee Daniels, but he shows complete command of the material, and has no problem shifting from family drama to outrageous black comedy to lurid sex and violence. His musical selections include such diverse elements as tangos, waltzes, hip-hop, and romantic faux-classical. His sets are opulent and gaudy. His production values are lush, and his shooting locations are chosen with an eye to the off-kilter. And the man's love for Philadelphia and its 'burbs is evident in every frame. The only real negative is that the dialogue isn't very original or punchy. Gooding almost never speaks, and the women are given rather mundane verbal work, so it's up to Dorff to provide the crackle, which he does in his own wild way.

Nice to see Cuba Gooding deliver such a strong, silent, subtle character. Few people will ever get to see the commitment he made to this part, but I saw it and salute him. He's been down on his luck, and I hope he starts to draw better hands as he pursues his comeback.



  • No features
  • the transfer is anamorphically enhanced, and is not especially vivid



  • Stephen Dorff - nearly full erection

  • Cuba Gooding - full rear nudity in three different scenes.

  • Jack Krizmanich - rear nudity as the gangsters strip him to get a pool cue up his ass.

  • one other man -- rear end with spread cheeks, bending over for anal sex.

  • Vanessa Ferlito - breasts

  • Maria Soccor - breasts

The Critics Vote ...


The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a C-, but that doesn't reflect my own reaction. Critics panned the film and audiences avoided it, so C- is the right grade, and my opinion seems like a piss into a hurricane. I fully understand if it is not your cup of tea because you are certainly not alone in that opinion, but I am impressed by it in many ways and will absolutely see this man's next film.

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