Dir: Lorenzo Doumani
Star: Sophia-Adella Hernandez, Edouardo Yanes, Tony Plana, William McNamara, Maria Conchita Alonzo
I was going to write this article as the Knockout drinking game, with contestants having to take a swig each time a boxing cliché appears – but an interest in the health of readers prevents me from so doing, because this film is so full of them, that you’d be dead of alcoholic poisoning before the end of the first act. I don’t know whether Doumani had never seen a boxing movie before (his career gives no reason to suggest he has, including such highlights as Bug Buster), or simply chose to combine them all into one. For this is the kind of diabolical script you would get if you distilled every boxing flick down.
The only significant difference is that here, the hero is…well, a heroine, Belle (Hernandez). Though nobody really bothers to mention it, because she’s so busy slogging her way through the usual problems that have bedevilled pugilistic wannabes since Edison was turning the crank: unsupportive family, a dubious managers, gym-owners doubtful of your talent, a ferocious opponent, etc. So, here goes with an approximate listing, in dialogue and images, of the things you’ll have seen a million times before – just never in such distilled and condensed strength.
- “Was papa a great boxer?”
“He was the best…”
- “What should I be when I grow up?”
“You can be whatever you want, because nothing is impossible. That’s for you to find out, and once you do, don’t let anyone hold you back. Let your light shine…”.
- Father (Plana) is a cop, who works nights so he can spend the days “with the kids at the gym”.
- “That’s what your Mom used to say. Think she’d be proud of how we turned out?” Yep, Mum (Miss Venezuela 1975, Maria Conchita Alonzo) is dead – but do you think that’s going to stop her from turning up? Chance would be a fine thing.
- Dad bravely talks two Hispanic kids into putting their guns down. I think he largely bores them into submission, with a monologue including the following: “I know you’re scared, but this isn’t the way…You have your whole lives ahead of you. What’s it gonna be: do you lay the weapon down, or do we lay you in the ground?”
- Belle’s home-girl Sandra is a boxer – at a fight againt Tanya ‘The Terminator’ Tessaro (real-life fighter Fredia Gibbs) we also meet Michael DiMarco, whose business card might as well read “Slimy Manager”.
- Needless to say, Tessaro destroys Sandra – thanks largely to what one review described as Sandra’s “leading with her face”. The film, inevitably (a word that will crop up a lot in this review, so get used to it), goes into slow-mo as Sandra collapses to the floor with a “NOOOOOOOOOO…SANDRAAAAAA” from Belle. Cut to a hospital bed, where Belle says things like “You were always the strong one…I’m gonna take care of you.” If I was Sandra, I’d be looking up Kevorkian’s number in my Rolodex about now, rather than sitting through:
“Do you believe in fate…that things were meant to be…that everyone has a destiny?”
“I hope Sandra’s destiny isn’t to die. Or be a vegetable because of me.”
“It’s not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. She loves it. She lives for it…In the ring, that’s where she lives…The only thing crazy in life, is not living it.” Is it just me, or does it seems rather crass to say that while your friend is in intensive care?
- Equally inevitably, Belle signs up with DiMarco – “Boxing – I guess I’ve always wanted to do it.” He takes her to see Ron Regent, wheelchair-bound promoter played by Paul Winfield, who’s about the best actor present despite having to handle dialogue like:
“So, you think you got the goods, huh?”
“Yeah, I got the goods.”
- Dad tries to dissuade her: “Professional boxing is brutal…You’re talking crazy. I don’t want to hear any more of this”.
- She keeps training anyway. Oh, what a surprise.
- The only element underplayed to this point is her mother’s deat…no, hang on – what’s this flashback?
“I don’t have good news. The tests reveal you have a malignant tumor in your frontal lobe.”
“So how much time do I have?
“It’s hard to say. But not long.”
“You have got to be strong…let’s appreciate the little time we have left.
“But you gotta promise me something…you gotta let her find a way to let her shine…”
- Inevitably, Dad comes along to first fight, inspiring her to victory.
- Then we get a montage of further victories, Belle tending to Sandra, Ron listening to money, fake mag covers, and the usual training sequences, all of which leads to:
- But first, Sandra regains consciousness. “The doctors – they say that I’ll never walk again”
- Belle fights with DiMarco because he wants to keep her from fighting Tessaro: “I thought you were different..but you’re just another ungrateful wetback bitch. You were just another ignorant barrio lowlife. You’re nothing without me.”
- Ron Regent arranges the fight with Tessaro instead – when announcing this, Belle pretends to be going to Las Vegas to marry DiMarco. How amusing!
- Another training montage.
- “Thanks for being there, Dad”. Except he isn’t, because the “next few days are all hype, but I’ll be there for the fight…in your corner…”
- And, inevitably, he won’t. He gets shot by drug-scum as he tries to protect a kid.
- Cue more slow-mo and – a particularly crass touch, this – blood spattering across a magazine cover with Belle’s picture on it.
- Funeral footage. “He loved you just like a son”.
- “I get the feeling he’s gonna be there at the fight”.
- Stultifyingly-stilted chat from Tessaro: “What’s my name? The Terminator! What am I gonna do to her? Terminate her!” And they claim boxing doesn’t promote brain-damage.
The Big Fight
- Belle has a glowing backlit vision – is she going to be abducted by aliens? Sadly not: it’s only her Mum and Dad, telling her, inevitably, to “Let your light shine”.
- Tessaro’s ring-entrance is like a discard from Grace Jones, complete with feather head-dress and dance routine, totally destroying her credibility and threat.
- Shots of Sandra, shouting “Get up, Belle – c’mon!”. That’ll help.
- One last montage: round cards, trainer in corner, and occasional boxing, all shot in a manner that is startling only in its tedium.
- With Tessaro losing, she butts Belle, forcing the bout towards a hugely contrived conclusion
- Albeit after another glowing, Let Your Light Shine-y, vision.
- Belle has just one more round to knock Tessaro out – will she do it?
- Any guesses?
Right down to the final scene, where flowers are laid on Mom and Dad’s grave, this film is crass, predictable and jaw-droppingly badly written. You can’t really blame the cast for this – they are all trying pretty hard, it’s just the material that doesn’t leave any room for improvement. Even though it came out before Girlfight, it is a waste of space on every level: Doumani’s lack of script-writing talent would get him thrown off any self-respecting daytime soap. His trust fund was allegedly taken away and poured into The Cotton Club, but on the showing here, I think it might have been higher forces at work, trying desperately to keep him out of the movie business.