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MMA drama ‘Bruised’ far from a knockout

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I’m on record as someone who greatly enjoys an inspirational sports movie. Whether we’re talking about comebacks from adversity or Davids taking on Goliaths or some combination therein, I am here for it. I’ve always found these types of films compelling when they’re done well.

Emphasis on the last part.

The new film “Bruised,” currently streaming on Netflix, doesn’t quite achieve that standard. It’s a muddy, confused sort of film, a movie that never figures out precisely what it is trying to say or what it wants to be. Set in the world of mixed martial arts, it is an undeniably visceral film – both physically and emotionally – but largely lacks the thematic depth that could push it to the next level.

It marks the directorial debut of Halle Berry, who also stars in the film. It’s an odd choice for a debut, a movie that originally had a different director and star attached; one wonders what drew Berry to the project in the first place. While there are some impactful moments, the muddled nature of the film’s tone undercuts them, ultimately resulting in a flawed viewing experience.

Jackie Justice (Berry) is a former UFC fighter, one who left the sport in disgrace following a panicked attempt to flee the ring in the middle of a bout. Years later, she’s working as a housekeeper and living with her manager/boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto); theirs is a wildly dysfunctional and codependent relationship, one exacerbated by her drinking problem.

Desi keeps pushing her to get back into the ring, even though she has long since given up on the idea. In an effort to change her mind, he takes her to an underground (and unsanctioned) fight. The intent is just to watch, but when she’s recognized, she’s forced into a confrontation. Her brutal performance captures the attention of Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), owner/operator of an upstart female MMA promotion. He wants Jackie to work with one of his trainers, a legendary figure in the business known as Buddhakan (Sheila Atim), and fight for him.

Further complicating the situation is when Jackie’s mother Angel (Adriane Lenox) shows up at her door with a young boy in tow. It turns out that Jackie left an infant son at the doorstep of the boy’s father some time ago; the dad was killed in a shooting that the boy witnessed, leaving him traumatized and mute with nowhere else to go. And so, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.) is now her responsibility.

She’s not at all prepared for the responsibilities that come with motherhood. Desi is completely disinterested in dealing with the boy, while Jackie’s training regimen leaves her less than ideally suited for caring for Manny. Still, she does her best to work her way through, making a LOT of mistakes along the way, but with the support of Buddhakan, she starts finding ways to push through.

When Immaculate offers Jackie a title fight – one with a significant payout just for showing up – she takes it, even as it further complicates her situation. As her world grows more complex, she’s left to search for new sources of strength – sources that develop from places both expected and surprising – in her pursuit of professional and personal redemption.

There are flashes in “Bruised” where you can see its potential. There are scenes and sequences where the movie proves captivating, capturing some of MMA’s brutality and the ramifications therein. But those moments are relatively few and far between, stitched together in a haphazard manner that leaves the viewer wondering both at the characters’ motivations and the intentions of the filmmaker behind it all. There’s a lack of clarity throughout that undermines the film’s not-insignificant potential.

Ultimately, the film’s biggest issue is its inconsistency. Tonally, the pieces simply don’t fit together in a coherent way, never allowing us to truly understand what it is the film is trying to say. We don’t know why people are behaving the way they are; even when we do get some scrap of explanation, it is almost always either forgotten or contradicted. If you’re telling a story about a fighter and it’s never clear what precisely the fighter is fighting for, you’ve got some serious issues.

Now, that’s not to say that this is all bad. There are some moments of fight choreography that seem to capture some of the more violent aspects of mixed martial arts, while also finding notes of the balletic within the brutality. And when the narrative settles into itself, we get stretches of solid storytelling. It’s just not enough.

For the record, I’m not ready to dismiss Berry’s directorial ambitions. This is a flawed film, to be sure, but to my mind, she’s shown more than enough to warrant more turns behind the camera. It’s a debut effort and should be considered as such.

As for the performances, it’s a mixed bag. Berry is undeniably committed to the role; however, it’s a situation where sometimes it clicks and sometimes it doesn’t. She does well with the physical nature of the part, but occasionally seems a bit lost in the film’s subtler moments. Canto and Anderson are both rather one-note – different notes, sure, but singular nevertheless. Lenox comes off as a bit cartoonish, though that’s more a fault of the script than the actor. Meanwhile, the kid is basically a plot device, though Boyd is fine. Atim might be the best of the bunch, radiating a quiet charisma throughout that is quite compelling.

“Bruised” is an ambitious effort that never fully comes together; it’s very much a mixed bag. There are stretches where you’ll find it worthwhile to put up a fight, but in the end, you’re probably going want to tap out.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 01 December 2021 13:32

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