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Sweet Girl: Jason Momoa’s howlingly enjoyable nonsense with a twist

When the twist hits, it does so with the force of a tornado unscrewing your head.

Sweet Girl: (Isabela Merced) and bitter dad (Jason Momoa).
Sweet Girl: (Isabela Merced) and bitter dad (Jason Momoa).

It’s been a fertile period of late for adventure films that pair tough burly movie stars opposite young unknowns — Dave Bautista and Chloe Coleman in My Spy, Liam Neeson and Jacob Perez in The Marksman — and the bulk doesn’t stop here. Sweet Girl, the latest from star/producer Jason Momoa, is howlingly enjoyable nonsense, a father/daughter actioner with a last minute twist that tries hard, but can’t quite explain away the previous 109 minutes of lunacy bookended by spectacular rooftop dives in the North Shore from high atop Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) is the jumper. What led to the leap was his wife’s death from cancer, a death that Ray felt could have been avoided had a miracle drug, in one its final stages of FDA approval, not been pulled off the market indefinitely. BioPrime Pharmaceuticals’ smarmy CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) takes to the airwaves arguing that health is not a human right. In truth, he paid the competition to pull the generic brand off the market. Here’s where the fun begins. The last time CNN took a call from a listener was when Larry King ruled the ratings. Here, Ray gets through and threatens to kill Keeley with his bare hands if his wife dies. A death threat is issued live on the air and no repercussions are felt, not even an attempt to trace the call.

Sponsored
Sponsored

At the risk of sounding like Keeley, BioPrime did not kill Amanda Cooper (Adria Arjona), cancer did. But there’s a plot to advance, so six months later finds Ray on the other end of the phone with Martin Bennett (Nelson Franklin), a crusading reporter from VICE, calling to assure him that he’s got enough on BioPrime to avenge Amanda’s death. Ray’s titular teenage daughter Rae (Isabela Merced) follows Dad to the subway station, where he receives a series of convoluted directions over the phone. Martin’s attempt to bring Ray up to speed is cut short by Amos Santos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a knife-wielding goon who kills the reporter, and, in an ensuing scuffle, tosses father and daughter out the train window and onto the platform.

Two years later, and Daddy’s pent-up little girl almost kills a guy while sparring in the boxing ring. In the spirit of a serial killer, one wall of the cold water flat Rae shares with Ray has pictures of Keeley plastered all over it. In an endeavor to legitimize BioPrime’s standing, Keeley has purchased the services of Senator Diana Morgan (Amy Brenneman). Ray learns that the two will be appearing at a UNICEF charity auction. Disguised as a waiter, Ray gains entry to the event quicker than a Capitol insurrectionist. What are the chances a man Ray’s size is going to find a waiter’s uniform with a 70-inch shoulder width? Never mind. During his speech, a marginally intoxicated Keeley confuses the sick children in Africa with their Indian counterparts. This might not necessarily be a bad thing, were it not for the fact that his partner on the project is Vinod Shah (Raza Jaffrey), the Gordon Gekko of India.

Tough as it may be for a guy Ray’s size to hide in plain sight, he distracts Keeley by spilling a drink in his lap. When confronted, Keeley laughs off Ray’s assertion that “she died because of you,” choosing to blame her death on Shah. Once Ray dispenses with two of his three assailants, the sounds of the auction are heard in the distance. Why is it no one heard the gunshots or Keeley’s screams from the floor below? Rae warns her animal father to lay off the violence before agreeing to join him on the lam. And remember the CNN death threat? Two years after Ray issued it, the FBI finally decides to investigate. Can one blame the Coopers for hopping in the family car and taking side streets to Toronto? Alas, it’s still business as usual at the Bureau. Rae contacts Detective Sarah Meeker (Lex Scott Davis), who advises her to buy a “burner” and call her back. Once again, no attempt is made to pinpoint their location, but rather to enable them to stay on the run. Were the bad guys sent from BioPrime?

Just in case, Ray rigs the exit door outside their motel room with sleigh bells. The inn must cater to the deaf; why else doesn’t anyone report the ensuing gunfire? They must have known it was not Ray’s intention to kill. After all, whose fault was it the thug landed atop his loaded gun? Cooper has a King Stahlman outlook when it comes to pistols: “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” There’s a terrific scene in a diner between Ray, Rae, and Amos. Prior to this, we know nothing about the bad guy other than this: he has a gun and likes to use it. Rae, instantly identifying him as the man from the subway, looks on as the enemies share a bonding session. Amos’ strongest childhood memory is that of his people being slaughtered before his eyes. He grew to hunt and kill them one by one. Ray is an amateur going up against a pro. In Amos’ eyes, Ray represents his village, and he is the opposing force. A deal is struck: Ray/Rae’s freedom in exchange for the name of the person who hired Amos to kill them. Ray reasons that when he goes after said person, Amos will then have his chance to gun him down. So as not to stick out, Ray steals a fire engine-red truck.

When the twist hits, it does so with the force of a tornado unscrewing your head. I won’t spoil it, nor will I allow it to get in the way of the unjustifiable silliness that deposits us back at PNC Park for the big reveal. ★★

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Annette Urban Outfitters plays at The Rialto, while down the street at the Orpheum, an audience is packed to the rafters, watching The Ape of God, starring Henry McHenry (Adam Driver), an incendiarily disruptive stand-up comic/performance artist who makes Nick Cannon look like Andy Kaufman. (The biggest laugh from his set is a bald-faced lift from Tom Lehrer.) Henry informs his minions that he, a lowly standup comic, is engaged to Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), a rising opera singer poised to leave her husband in the dust. Imagine an unpointed Groucho, training for his next set like Jake LaMotta shadow boxing in the dark, marrying a simpering Cotillard who, like Kitty Carlise in A Night at the Opera, did her own singing when not hanging in the background like a painting. Add to that the birth of their eponymous wooden daughter — a red-headed Pinochhiette,, stringless, computer generated, and a much better alternative to a third go-round for the grimy leprechaun star of director Leos Carax’s Merde and Holy Motors. Revenge is a ghost served cold. Without spoiling things, suffice it to say that baby Annette is suddenly possessed with her mother’s voice, and it’s dad’s bright idea to exploit the hell out of the little freak. What we have here is a downbeat musical of the highest order. As songwriters, Ron and Russell Mael are terrific screenwriters and Carax is no stranger to ladling on the style. But the lyrics — “We love each other so much” x 20, etc. — are this generation’s slightly less annoying answer to Andrew Lloyd Webber. On Amazon Prime. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

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Sweet Girl: (Isabela Merced) and bitter dad (Jason Momoa).
Sweet Girl: (Isabela Merced) and bitter dad (Jason Momoa).

It’s been a fertile period of late for adventure films that pair tough burly movie stars opposite young unknowns — Dave Bautista and Chloe Coleman in My Spy, Liam Neeson and Jacob Perez in The Marksman — and the bulk doesn’t stop here. Sweet Girl, the latest from star/producer Jason Momoa, is howlingly enjoyable nonsense, a father/daughter actioner with a last minute twist that tries hard, but can’t quite explain away the previous 109 minutes of lunacy bookended by spectacular rooftop dives in the North Shore from high atop Pittsburgh’s PNC Park.

Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) is the jumper. What led to the leap was his wife’s death from cancer, a death that Ray felt could have been avoided had a miracle drug, in one its final stages of FDA approval, not been pulled off the market indefinitely. BioPrime Pharmaceuticals’ smarmy CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) takes to the airwaves arguing that health is not a human right. In truth, he paid the competition to pull the generic brand off the market. Here’s where the fun begins. The last time CNN took a call from a listener was when Larry King ruled the ratings. Here, Ray gets through and threatens to kill Keeley with his bare hands if his wife dies. A death threat is issued live on the air and no repercussions are felt, not even an attempt to trace the call.

Sponsored
Sponsored

At the risk of sounding like Keeley, BioPrime did not kill Amanda Cooper (Adria Arjona), cancer did. But there’s a plot to advance, so six months later finds Ray on the other end of the phone with Martin Bennett (Nelson Franklin), a crusading reporter from VICE, calling to assure him that he’s got enough on BioPrime to avenge Amanda’s death. Ray’s titular teenage daughter Rae (Isabela Merced) follows Dad to the subway station, where he receives a series of convoluted directions over the phone. Martin’s attempt to bring Ray up to speed is cut short by Amos Santos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a knife-wielding goon who kills the reporter, and, in an ensuing scuffle, tosses father and daughter out the train window and onto the platform.

Two years later, and Daddy’s pent-up little girl almost kills a guy while sparring in the boxing ring. In the spirit of a serial killer, one wall of the cold water flat Rae shares with Ray has pictures of Keeley plastered all over it. In an endeavor to legitimize BioPrime’s standing, Keeley has purchased the services of Senator Diana Morgan (Amy Brenneman). Ray learns that the two will be appearing at a UNICEF charity auction. Disguised as a waiter, Ray gains entry to the event quicker than a Capitol insurrectionist. What are the chances a man Ray’s size is going to find a waiter’s uniform with a 70-inch shoulder width? Never mind. During his speech, a marginally intoxicated Keeley confuses the sick children in Africa with their Indian counterparts. This might not necessarily be a bad thing, were it not for the fact that his partner on the project is Vinod Shah (Raza Jaffrey), the Gordon Gekko of India.

Tough as it may be for a guy Ray’s size to hide in plain sight, he distracts Keeley by spilling a drink in his lap. When confronted, Keeley laughs off Ray’s assertion that “she died because of you,” choosing to blame her death on Shah. Once Ray dispenses with two of his three assailants, the sounds of the auction are heard in the distance. Why is it no one heard the gunshots or Keeley’s screams from the floor below? Rae warns her animal father to lay off the violence before agreeing to join him on the lam. And remember the CNN death threat? Two years after Ray issued it, the FBI finally decides to investigate. Can one blame the Coopers for hopping in the family car and taking side streets to Toronto? Alas, it’s still business as usual at the Bureau. Rae contacts Detective Sarah Meeker (Lex Scott Davis), who advises her to buy a “burner” and call her back. Once again, no attempt is made to pinpoint their location, but rather to enable them to stay on the run. Were the bad guys sent from BioPrime?

Just in case, Ray rigs the exit door outside their motel room with sleigh bells. The inn must cater to the deaf; why else doesn’t anyone report the ensuing gunfire? They must have known it was not Ray’s intention to kill. After all, whose fault was it the thug landed atop his loaded gun? Cooper has a King Stahlman outlook when it comes to pistols: “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” There’s a terrific scene in a diner between Ray, Rae, and Amos. Prior to this, we know nothing about the bad guy other than this: he has a gun and likes to use it. Rae, instantly identifying him as the man from the subway, looks on as the enemies share a bonding session. Amos’ strongest childhood memory is that of his people being slaughtered before his eyes. He grew to hunt and kill them one by one. Ray is an amateur going up against a pro. In Amos’ eyes, Ray represents his village, and he is the opposing force. A deal is struck: Ray/Rae’s freedom in exchange for the name of the person who hired Amos to kill them. Ray reasons that when he goes after said person, Amos will then have his chance to gun him down. So as not to stick out, Ray steals a fire engine-red truck.

When the twist hits, it does so with the force of a tornado unscrewing your head. I won’t spoil it, nor will I allow it to get in the way of the unjustifiable silliness that deposits us back at PNC Park for the big reveal. ★★

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Annette Urban Outfitters plays at The Rialto, while down the street at the Orpheum, an audience is packed to the rafters, watching The Ape of God, starring Henry McHenry (Adam Driver), an incendiarily disruptive stand-up comic/performance artist who makes Nick Cannon look like Andy Kaufman. (The biggest laugh from his set is a bald-faced lift from Tom Lehrer.) Henry informs his minions that he, a lowly standup comic, is engaged to Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard), a rising opera singer poised to leave her husband in the dust. Imagine an unpointed Groucho, training for his next set like Jake LaMotta shadow boxing in the dark, marrying a simpering Cotillard who, like Kitty Carlise in A Night at the Opera, did her own singing when not hanging in the background like a painting. Add to that the birth of their eponymous wooden daughter — a red-headed Pinochhiette,, stringless, computer generated, and a much better alternative to a third go-round for the grimy leprechaun star of director Leos Carax’s Merde and Holy Motors. Revenge is a ghost served cold. Without spoiling things, suffice it to say that baby Annette is suddenly possessed with her mother’s voice, and it’s dad’s bright idea to exploit the hell out of the little freak. What we have here is a downbeat musical of the highest order. As songwriters, Ron and Russell Mael are terrific screenwriters and Carax is no stranger to ladling on the style. But the lyrics — “We love each other so much” x 20, etc. — are this generation’s slightly less annoying answer to Andrew Lloyd Webber. On Amazon Prime. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

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