“Southpaw” creates a major quandary.
On one hand, it’s a film that features some really strong performances and isn’t afraid to take its time with storytelling. On the other hand, it takes its script directly from the boxing genre manuscript, meaning any astute moviegoer is always two steps ahead of the plot.
It’s an all-too-familiar journey that ultimately falls short of success.
In “Southpaw,” Jake Gyllenhaal plays Billy Hope, who has risen from a foster kid in Hell’s Kitchen to become light-heavyweight champion of the world, enjoying his success with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and his young daughter Leila (Oona Laurence).
Billy’s world falls apart after losing his wife in a tragic accident and his daughter to protective services, causing him to turn to a trainer named Tick Willis (Forest Whitaker) to get his life back on track.
Directed by Antoine Fuqua, “Southpaw” has a gritty edge that fits the sport and its subject matter. But the first half of the film is so down beat and features so much suffering, it becomes difficult to watch (and in a way, difficult to root for Billy).
It’s as if Fuqua tried to fuse the “Rocky” franchise with “Raging Bull,” producing a really flat offspring.
You can almost use a checklist for every major plot point in “Southpaw,” right down to the final act. The cast at least keeps it interesting, and nearly elevates screenwriter Kurt Sutter’s material above mediocrity.
Gyllenhaal is fine in the lead and Laurence makes an impression as the daughter.
But it’s Whitaker’s performance that really keeps “Southpaw” from completely sinking. When Tick arrives on screen, he gives “Southpaw” life.
Whitaker is so good, it made me wish he was the film’s focal point instead of Billy.
That’s a film that likely wouldn’t have been weakened by a pedestrian script.
Also in theaters
If you are looking for something a little lighter, “Trainwreck” (B+), a romantic comedy starring Amy Schumer, is the perfect R-rated date movie.
The comedian’s first foray as a leading lady, and first screenplay, is razor sharp – it takes all the cliches of the genre and shatters them into a million pieces.
If, like me, you are a fan of Schumer, then “Trainwreck” is the summer film for you. It’s not afraid to take chances and is all the better for it.
Schumer plays Amy, a commitment-phobic career woman working at a magazine. Amy’s view on relationships was skewed at an early age by her womanizing father (Colin Quinn), so she goes from one guy to another, not thinking about a long-term relationship.
Her view on relationships changes when she meets a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader). He seems too good to be true, and Amy is reluctant to fully commit even as her feelings grow stronger.
If you’ve seen Schumer’s stand-up, or her Comedy Central series, then you know she’s not afraid to say or do anything for a laugh.
That gung-ho attitude is on display in full force in “Trainwreck.” Amy is a mess of a person – completely flawed and at times very misguided.
Schumer’s performance is very believable. You can see Amy in all her damaged glory, showing she has some dramatic chops as well.
Hader is very good too, but that’s no surprise to anyone who saw last year’s “The Skeleton Twins.” Hader is much more than his “Saturday Night Live” persona – a capable leading man who can be as serious as he is funny.
Schumer’s script is in good hands with Judd Apatow behind the camera. Apatow isn’t afraid to keep the camera rolling, which results in the film exceeding 120 minutes (almost unheard of for a romantic comedy).
Sure, a few scenes could have been trimmed, but it would have taken away from a lot of pleasant surprises stuffed throughout “Trainwreck.”
You get to see LeBron James and John Cena show comic timing I never thought was possible. The film’s length allows more screen time for Brie Larson as Amy’s married and very grounded sister, as well as Tilda Swinton as Amy’s slightly off-kilter boss.
You also get some fun cameos, some sports related.
Some may feel “Trainwreck” has a wrap-up that’s a little too neat, but I found it a charming conclusion to a journey that was anything but typical romantic-comedy formula.
“Trainwreck” is R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use and is playing at Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.