Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Review: Girlfight 3 1/2 Stars

Does this sound familiar?:

Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is an angry young woman trapped in the Red Hook projects of Brooklyn. Running an errand for her dismissive father Sandro (Paul Calderon), Diana happens upon the gym where her younger brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) is training to box. Immediately, Diana recognizes that this world of sweat and determination is where she belongs.

Secretly, Diana starts training with Hector (Jaime Tirelli) who sees an opportunity to cash in on the novelty of coed fights by pitting Diana against other featherweights, both male and female. Complications arise when Diana and fellow boxer Adrian (Santiago Douglas) fall in love, but must compete against one another. As tensions escalate, Sandro discovers his daughter’s secret life and Diana proves her mettle as a boxer and as a woman.

Earlier this year, Knockout, a film about a Latina boxer battling against all odds to make it in the male-dominated world of boxing, was released to a limited theatrical audience. It disappeared quickly and without much fanfare.

Knockout didn’t knock anyone out because it wasn’t very good.

Girlfight is also a film about a Latina boxer battling against all odds to make it in the male-dominated world of boxing. Treading in the well-trod field of against-all-odds, nothing-to-lose sports movie, Girlfight and Knockout both attempt to spin the tired formula by making the protagonist a female. Girlfight succeeds where Knockout failed not because its theme was any different, not because the variation on its theme was any different. There is nothing we haven’t seen before in Girlfight.

However, Kusama and her cast make the stale fresh with solid, gutwrenching performances and a firm commitment to instilling an edgy, perhaps feminine, spirit and energy to the classic sports story. Girlfight works because writer/director Karyn Kusama had a cinematic vision that turns the worn-out theme on its ear, a vision supported by gritty cinematography by Patrick Cady, an in-your-face soundtrack, and superb casting -- newcomer Rodriguez is a spark waiting to flame. This isn’t a great film, but this freshman effort from Kusama is pretty damned good.

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