Upper-crust assassins Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and Rose (Helen Mirren) receive their latest assignment: to break into the mansion owned by their client, gangster Clayton (Stephen Dorff), and take out not only his henchmen but also his young wife, Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito), for an alleged infidelity. But seconds after efficiently executing the first half of the deal, Rose busts into Clayton’s bedroom and uncovers Vickie, bedridden and pregnant. Vickie’s water breaks, and Rose, whose own days are numbered due to a recent cancer diagnosis, delivers the baby on the spot, hygiene be damned. Mikey chides his partner for her lack of professionalism, but after some begging the assassins whisk mother and child away to live with them incognito, awaiting the ruthless Clayton’s inevitable wrath.
If this plot synopsis and the thought of Gooding Jr. and Mirren as an assassin duo sounds absolutely ludicrous, consider yourself normal. In fact, Gooding Jr. and Mirren appear not just as assassins but also, more believably, as lovers--they even do the nasty to Nas. As for the plot, it’s the kind of puerile, testosterone-drenched stuff you expect from a pimply middle-schooler who just watched Scarface for the first time. But if you’re aching to watch Stephen Dorff threaten a sycophant’s rectum with a splintering pool cue or see someone’s head get blown off while having sex, here’s the movie for you.
Coming from an up-and-coming African-American Hollywood player such as director Lee Daniels, the amateurish and even offensive Shadowboxer is a major disappointment. Daniels, a producer of Monster’s Ball, has professed concern about how his people are portrayed in movies, but here he offers neo-blaxploitation of the lowest order with some limp stylistic nods to the Bourne franchise thrown in. Perhaps you’re supposed to find the movie’s multiple interracial pairings inspirational--Brick’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt portrays the Hippocratic oath-deficient Dr. Don, lover to crack-addled nurse Precious (Mo’Nique)--but the stereotypical (read: ignorant) roles given Mo’Nique and Macy Gray, among others, more than squash those potential positivity kernels. Bizarre casting, unintentionally hilarious dialogue, and some moments of flashy camerawork are about all Shadowboxer has to offer, relegating it to the ranks of movies that work well as ironic comedy in about 15 or 20 years. But trust us: any sooner and you’ll be sorry.