Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in Shadowboxer.


Stars Helen Mirren, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Director Lee Daniels

* (out of five)

If we rated movies with crazy points, Shadowboxer would be on everybody’s year-end list. It’s so insane, it makes the other insane movies of 2006 look, at best, mildly disturbed.

Imagine Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding, Jr. as a ferociously devoted mother- son hit team, taking out anyone who even looks sideways at an undefined mob boss (Stephen Dorff) ... until they’re assigned to take out his incredibly pregnant wife (Vanessa Ferlito).

But her water breaks just as Mirren has her in her sights ... and baby changes everything! And not in the vaguely philosophical re-awakening- to-the-possibilities-oflife manner that so rocked John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank, but in a much more concrete, shoot-your-way-to-redemption kind of thing, where Gooding still gets to kill a whole bunch of people — and show off his buff backside on several occasions — in the name of serving a greater good.

At least that’s what I think Shadowboxer is about. It’s kind of hard to tell, what with its incessantly arty cutaways, its meaninglessly circular conversations, and the way director Lee Daniels keeps trying to solve the massive problems in William Lipz’s script with another sex scene or another flashback, finally giving up and delivering a flashback during a sex scene in one grand what-the-hell gesture.

Daniels, incidentally, made his name as the producer of Monster’s Ball, a movie that was just as ridiculous as this one in terms of plot progression and character motivation, but carried itself with a portentous tone that some found moving. In his directorial debut, Daniels doesn’t do portentous; he goes instead for a hothouse kind of atmosphere, encouraging his actors to engage in ever more explicit acts of seamy, transgressive sex.

Presumably, this was the same way he got Halle Berry to sign onto Monster’s Ball. Vanessa Ferlito must be wishing she’d never left CSI: New York.

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