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Monday, August 24, 2015

Southpaw 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

SouthpawDirector: Antoine Fuqua
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Forest Whitaker

Jake Gyllenhaal just blows me away. As an actor, he completely transforms himself profusely and in a way, excessively. You watch him play a Travis Bickle type in last year's Nightcrawler and a pitted fighter in 2015's Southpaw (my latest review). Honestly, it's really hard to tell that it's the same guy. He's the best and maybe the only reason to see this conventional, sort of Rocky retread, a boxing flick directed by the guy who made Training Day. Yo Adrian guess what, Antoine did it! Antoine did it!

In terms of storyline and/or premise, Southpaw is a typical take on the whole riches to rags to riches concept. It's fall from grace and then grace again. The direction is careful, the soundtrack is rap-infused (which sort of kills any dramatic momentum at key points), and the antagonist thwarts the words "b*tch" and "belt" via multiple sentences. There's blood, there's sweat, and there's tears. Oh and Eminem to boot.

Written by the guy who penned TV's Sons of Anarchy (Kurt Sutter) and released by The Weinstein Company (this initially, was not the case), "Paw" chronicles scruffy, ripped Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal). He's the World Light Heavyweight champion, a fighting monster with the mind of a ticking time bomb. Early on in the film, he defends his title. Cut to the next hour and a half and he loses everything that's important to him. Southpaw unequivocally starts with a devastating twist (which I won't reveal). Things then detour from cheery sports territory to flat-out, hard drama.

Now as mentioned earlier, Southpaw procreates the feel and attitude of all six Rocky movies combined. There's a funeral (just revert back to Mickey kicking the bucket in Rocky III), a final fight sequence (just think of every installment except "V"), a scene where a character is lying dead and no one bothers to help or contact the paramedics (just like when Apollo went down in "IV"), a house getting repossessed (just like when Stallone lost his mansion again in "V"), plenty of bloody and unrealistic fight enactments (this was in every Rocky pic), plenty of scantily clad ring girls ("III" had the best assortment of this), the obligatory training montage ("I", "II", "III", "IV", and Rocky Balboa had this), and a villainous opponent bent on harassing the hero not to mention his beautiful wife (remember Clubber Lang in "III"?). In truth, the only difference between "Paw" and all things Rocky, is the R rating due to harsher language (Mr. Balboa wasn't into spouting off F-words). Oh and N.Y.C. substitutes for Philly this time around.

Italian Stallion imitations aside, Southpaw also is pretty manipulative when trying to get its point across. The film is loosely based on true events (uh, not really) and it's a playbook for tragedy. Everything that happens seems inserted or staged to keep the narrative afloat. So OK, let's take away Billy Hope's wife (check). Then, let's take away his kid and give Hope only supervised visits (check). Let's give him anger issues and have him suspended by the boxing commission (check). Let's leave him broke and penniless, living in a rundown apartment on 100 whatever street (chickity-check). Let's give him illegal guns in his mansion and a problem with drugs/alcohol (check-o-slovakia). Oh and let's foreclose on his humbled abode in record time (I saw this flick with my father. He's a realtor and he said there's no way this process could happen so quickly).

In conclusion, this two hour-plus, depression fest is almost recommendable because of Gyllenhaal's amazing dedication to his craft. There's also decent performances including Forest Whitaker as his reluctant trainer (he plays Titus "Tick" Wills) and rapper 50 Cent as his character's fight promoter, Jordan Mains. But with its lack of powerful vigor and total shortage of flask originality, Southpaw sadly, goes "south". My rating: 2 and a half stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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