The atmosphere of the room changes whenever Jason Mamoa appears on screen. He’s that giant hulk of a guy whose gruff appearance suggests he might have been raised by wolverines deep in the Alaskan wilderness. Everyone pays attention when he furrows his brow, offering that menacing glare through those tufts of matted hair. Simply put, he’s a dream boat and his presence enhances whatever story is being told. Even… this.
Netflix release Sweet Girl has him play Ray, a husband and father, who loses his wife to cancer when the promise of a new drug is rescinded due to corporate greed and political corruption. The unbearable loss has him struggling to cope. In a moment of grief, he telephones into a live television broadcast where the CEO of the pharmaceutical company, played by Justin Bartha, is engaged in a debate. Threatening to hunt down and kill this big pharma figure, he earns himself a place on the FBI’s watch list.
All within the first act of the story, the plot hopscotches six months ahead, and then two years, as Ray and his daughter, Rachel (Isabela Merced), are contacted by a journalist who has a story that will expose the corruption. Things take a sudden turn as the father and daughter find themselves on the run from corporate and government hitmen – as well as the FBI. It doesn’t take long before blood is spilled and morality is abandoned.
This is a very convoluted story, to say the least, and were it not for Mamoa’s outrageous magnetism, there would be little left to save this mess of a movie. Making his directorial debut, director Brian Andrew Mendoza reunites with Mamoa after having produced the star in Road to Paloma, Braven and Frontier. Theirs is clearly a strong rapport, however this particular vehicle comes to a grinding halt the moment the plot makes its first shift in time. And while I am reluctant to criticise heavily anyone making their debut, I’m inclined to direct fault towards writers Gregg Hurwitz and Phillip Eisner, who previously penned Book of Henry and Event Horizon respectively. They are better than this dreck.
The dialogue is stilted and completely transparent; it’s like these words have no definition or emotion attached to them. Almost every poor line spoken is for the sake of plot device and story progression, baring little to no depth at all. This lack of cohesion extends to the action itself, with every seminal moment executed with no dexterity. The fight sequences – of which there are many – are by the numbers and the choreography can be seen where it ought to be absent. Detrimentally, the character actions and decisions don’t feel natural at all. And regardless of Mamoa’s arresting presence on screen, his moments of bravado, revenge and heroism are reduced to boring slap, hit, tackle antics.
The failings of debut films can often be attributed to the overall learning curve of the filmmaker. The potential and promise, as well as the intention of the artist can be the saving grace, but Sweet Girl seems to be an ill-conceived premise from the outset. It isn’t clever, and it isn’t interesting. The final act is, to put it simply, downright stupid and treats the audience like idiots. Furthermore, there are no standout performances, and for a film that cements its premise on illness, loss and grief, it completely fails to connect on any emotional level.
‘Sweet Girl’ is now streaming on Netflix – you can watch it HERE.