Hard-hitting flick more a mumble in the jungle
SOUTHPAW (15, 124 mins) Drama/Action/Romance. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Oona Laurence, Forest Whitaker, Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson, Naomie Harris, Miguel Gomez. Director: Antoine Fuqua.
RATING: THREE STARS
FETED by some sports commentators as the greatest boxer of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson possessed one unshakeable quality that gave him an edge over his opponents. "To be a champ you have to believe in yourself when no one else will," he insisted.
Director Antoine Fuqua, screenwriter Kurt Sutter and leading man Jake Gyllenhaal clearly believe in their hard-slugging sports drama about a one-time boxing legend, who hits the comeback trail in order to win back the custody of his young daughter.
Fuqua orchestrates testosterone-fuelled skirmishes inside the ring with brio, Sutter trades verbal blows with his snappy dialogue and Gyllenhaal trained intensively for six months with fight choreographer Terry Claybon to replicate the muscular physicality and snarling mentality of a light heavyweight.
Ironically, for a film that packs a wallop during briskly edited bouts, Southpaw delivers only a few light jabs to our heartstrings, almost all of which are landed by 12-year-old actress Oona Laurence.
At 124 minutes, Fuqua's cliche-riddled contender expects us to go 12 rounds with training montages and a euphoric Eminem soundtrack before the obligatory final showdown of brawn over brains.
Billy Hope (Gyllenhaal) is a giant of the boxing ring, who celebrates retaining his championship belt with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and precocious daughter Leila (Laurence).
Maureen becomes concerned about the toll on her husband's body and pleads with him to hang up his gloves for good, which doesn't impress Billy's lifelong manager, Jordan Mains (Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson).
Tragedy strikes and Leila is wrested away from Billy by the courts after he sinks into a mire of alcohol-sodden despair. To reunite his fractured family, Billy must prove to child services that he can be a responsible parent.
To earn enough money to provide a home for Leila, Billy heads back into the ring to fight his nemesis, Miguel 'Magic' Escobar (Miguel Gomez). Thus the underdog begins the journey back to peak physical fitness with the help of old school trainer Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker).
Southpaw is a rousing parable of triumph over adversity that won't knock out any fans of The Champ, Rocky and other displays of pugilistic big screen machismo. Gyllenhaal looks in peak physical shape, but mumbles his lines, some of which are incomprehensible. McAdams illuminates her limited scenes while Laurence proves she can cry on cue like a leaky tap.
Jackson plays his role with swagger, echoing the capitalist interests of modern sport when his bling-laden promoter grins, "If it makes money, it makes sense." Money talks – if only Gyllenhaal did more clearly.