Chick Fight: Malin Akerman and Alec Baldwin punch things up.
Unlike David Fincher’s satirically-muscular predecessor, director Paul Leyden and screenwriter Joseph Downey discourage use of the term “fight club,” choosing instead to liken their underground all-female boxing arena to a safehouse, a refuge where women can get together and let off a little steam. The first rule of Chick Fight is: don’t expect much purpose behind the punches and you may find yourself in for a round robin of frivolity.
Anna Wyncomb (Malin Akerman) awakens to the vociferous clamor of neighbors noisily making love, a hollow cardboard tube where toilet paper once bloomed, and her car winching its way up the back of the repo man’s flatbed. (Her offer to flash the driver in exchange for his complaisance would still cost Anna a grand a teat.) What’s more, it’s the anniversary of her mother’s death, and a conciliatory visit to dad Ed (Kevin Nash) is in order. Ed chooses the moment to come out as “sexually fluid,” and as delighted as Anna is to learn of his newfound romance, the sight of Chuck (Alec Mapa), a lover half her towering father’s size, adds a few extra revolutions to her already spinning head.
It’s not over yet. Charleen (Dulcé Sloan) a gay, plus-size police woman with brawn to spare and a modus vivendi set at overbold, is a frequent visitor to Anna’s coffee shop. And it’s Officer Charleen who supplies the carelessly flicked after-hours joint that sets the joint ablaze. Sloan’s assertive comic relief is enough to salvage even the dopiest script contrivance. It is also she who introduces Anna to the squared-circle torture chamber. Wanting to keep the club’s whereabouts a secret from first-timers, Charleen understandably places a pillowcase over Anna’s head. (A blindfolded Anna could probably make it from the front door to her parking space without too much stumbling, but covering her eyes in the living room rather than waiting until they are inside the car begs logic.)
The evening’s card is generally determined by a hat full of names. Challenges are welcome, but be careful: refusal to comply means permanent banishment. Shit that ain’t cool in the ring: hair pulling, eye-poking, and biting. All other underhandedness is aboveboard. Why does 40-year-old Anna, a struggling small business owner who has never been on the giving or receiving end of a punch, decide to go along with this senseless marianismo? Because the actress that plays her doubles as the film’s producer, and dammit, there’s a plot to advance. When it comes to comedy and physicality, Akerman’s timing, unlike the script’s character shadings, is on target. Much to her surprise, it is later revealed that Anna’s mother founded the undertaking — how is it that young Anna never noticed mom’s bruises? — but at no point do we feel a sense of urgency, or fear that Anna is going under. If what the montage shows is true, Anna is doing a slam-bang job of reopening her shop.
Bella Thorne first blipped the old radar as Adam Sandler’s daughter in the so-bad-it-soars Blended, soon followed by regular appearances on TMZ. Gossip hysteria aside, there’s much about this young woman’s B-movie sensibilities that appeals to me. Good girl (Midnight Sun) or bad (Infamous), she seldom disappoints. Olivia finds Thorne unthrottling her inner-beast. She’s the toughest scrapper in the bunch, and it’s established early on that a fling in the ring with Anna is inevitable. How low can Olivia go? It doesn’t get much lower than trashing one’s dead mother.
Looking to train for the event, Anna finds herself in need of a first class coach. With none around to answer the call, she settles for Jack Murphy (Alec Baldwin), a stumblebum whose drinking “defies gravity.” Between Match Game and SNL, the small screen is robbing filmgoers of Baldwin’s essence. This is only his second big screen appearance so far this year, down from five in 2019. After five minutes, one realizes how much he’s been missed. Not since Walter Matthau trained Tatum O’Neal in The Bad News Bears has a serial rumpot brought this much delight to the art of instruction.
Of all the sports, boxing is the one that makes the least amount of sense to me. Who wins when two people step into a ring and proceed to beat the tar out of each other? A bloodthirsty audience. I’d sooner buy into the film’s hopelessly contrived ending than motivational talk of “Leave behind all fear and doubt and step in the ring to prove yourself brave.” Fight Club used violence to reach an anti-violent conclusion. Chick Fight uses violence to sell popcorn. It’s consumable, but it could have used a little more salt. ★★★
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Divine Love — From Gabriel Mascaro (Neon Bull) comes the question “Does human bureaucracy exist, or is that just another name for privilege?” Brazil 2027, a time when the party of Supreme Love has surpassed Carnival as the country’s #1 attraction. Joana (Dira Paes) uses her position as notary at the divorce registration office to persuade couples to keep their marriages alive by joining the party of technobeat addicted, God-fearing, orgy-throwing sybarites. The warm side she extends cult followers is nothing compared to the cold and judgmental treatment afforded all who oppose. Infertility plagues Joana. No matter how hard she and her husband Danilo (Julio Machado) try to conceive — a process that entails his hanging upside down, bathed in ultraviolet rays — it appears God wants to punish her womb. At least that’s what she tells the priest at the drive-thru ministry. Part of the swinging God squad schtick dictates that no matter how many partners he has, a man may spill his seed only in his wife. When Joana finally does find herself with child, it’s impossible for her to pinpoint the father. What did she expect, having unprotected sex with so many partners? Or was the baby immaculately conceived? Mascaro offers up another helping of bull surrealistically flung against a neon backdrop. In my youth I never thought I’d say it, but I could have done without the repetitious simulated sex acts. On an up note, unless memory fails, not since Frank Tashlin’s The First Time has a film been narrated by a fetus. Now streaming at the Digital Gym. 2019 — S.M. ★★★