Sweet Girl, 2021.
Directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza.
Starring Jason Momoa, Isabela Merced, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Raza Jaffrey, Justin Bartha, Lex Scott Davis, Michael Raymond-James, Dominic Fumusa, Nelson Franklin, Will Blagrove, and Amy Brenneman.
A devastated husband vows to bring justice to the people responsible for his wife’s death while protecting the only family he has left, his daughter.
Given the violent nature of most action movies (especially ones fueled by vengeance), they all need a protagonist with justifiable reasons for going on a rampage or clear-cut villains easy to hate that deserve to meet a grim fate. Sweet Girl (directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza, who was actually a producer on one of star Jason Momoa’s better leading role action vehicles, Braven) doesn’t necessarily have either of those driving factors for investment. There’s also a third-act twist that Netflix has forbidden critics from talking about, for both understandable reasons (it is a significant plot point, after all) and most likely “oh shit, this is not good” self-awareness, that somewhat eliminates all the questionable elements regarding the measures taken to deliver justice, also at the cost of one ridiculous, lame, cliché reveal.
Anyway, the Coopers (comprised of Jason Momoa as Ray, Adria Arjona playing his wife Amanda, and young Isabela Merced, a talented up-and-coming performer already with a decent blockbuster resume having starred as Dora the Explorer and taken part in a Transformers installment, as their daughter Rachel) are the ideal happy family, although Amanda’s cancer has returned and is more severe than ever. However, one of the doctors makes aware that a powerful pharmaceutical company has just gone FDA approval to release a new drug that will most likely prove effective in helping her combat the illness. Keep in mind, it’s not a 100% confirmation, but everyone seems hopeful.
Shortly after that, Ray begins to rightfully grow impatient that Amanda has not been prescribed the new breakthrough medication, only to discover that the company was offered money to withhold its release to the public. Now, right has a right to be furious, but within minutes he finds himself calling into a program on CNN where the head of the pharmaceutical company Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) is the subject of an interview alongside a US Senate representative (Amy Brenneman). They explain how they are still committed to saving lives, whereas Ray quickly becomes hostile, sending death threats to them on live television, which for as misguided and greedy this corporation is, still not the behavior one exactly wants to see from the hero. There also needs to be someone with more range than Jason Momoa to give that role the appropriate dramatic complexity for it even to have a shot at working (unfortunately, Jason Momoa is pretty bad here whenever the story requires him to do things beyond punching and kicking).
The drug is never released, Amanda dies, and Sweet Girl periodically jumps forward in time enough that the in-media res opening teasing part of the climax is several years ahead of where the narrative begins. One such interval sees a journalist (Nelson Franklin) reaching out to Ray with proof that the company was taking bribes and taking part in shadier practices involving offshore shell companies. Reluctant to meet up, they eventually do on a train (with Rachel shadowing her father unknowingly) where a hitman joins the party placing everyone’s life in danger.
A cookie-cutter conspiracy ensues where it becomes difficult to get behind Ray’s actions considering his quest for revenge consistently places Rachel’s life in danger. The script from Gregg Hurwitz and Philip Eisner seems to realize this, containing dialogue exchanges where Rachel addresses these concerns. However, it doesn’t last for long as she decides that the only way to remain a family is to join her father on the mission. It would also be unfair to say that Rachel is helpless or a detriment to their survival, as it’s made clear father and daughter have long bonded over physical sparring. This also allows Isabela Merced to receive some nice action beats, although the fight sequences’ frustrating jumpcut cinematography and incoherence don’t do anyone favors.
Even if one doesn’t catch on to what’s really going on in Sweet Girl, numerous scenes make it clear something doesn’t add up. Early narration from Ray about the past and memories shape individual people also signal that, while the film is still straightforward, everything is not as it seems. It comes down to that the big revelation, even if it didn’t come across entirely stupid and trite, certainly doesn’t add anything to those themes. Perhaps more insultingly, it feels like there is some storytelling cheating going on hiding the twist. Either way, Sweet Girl was probably always destined to be underwhelming, but if the filmmakers hadn’t tried playing dumb and predictable games exploring their message without tricks, this generic action romp might have been a little less sour.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com