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So-so ‘Sweet Girl’ offers vengeance with a twist

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Another week, another Netflix original.

While the streamer’s commitment to providing a steady supply of original content is admirable, the combination of constant churn and a vague sense of algorithmic generation, there’s no disputing that the level of quality is … uneven, to say the least, even if the quantity is largely delivered as promised.

Their latest entry is “Sweet Girl,” a revenge thriller starring Jason Momoa. This story of a man pursuing vengeance against the pharmaceutical company that he holds responsible for the death of his wife is your run-of-the-mill passable, largely forgettable action offering … right up until a late twist that turns the whole thing into something altogether more bonkers, altering not just the remainder of the film, but everything we’ve seen before.

Now, that’s not to say that this makes any of this what you’d call “good” – the film is too across-the-board workmanlike for that – but it certainly turns what initially seems like a time-filling watch into something you’ll at least remember beyond the end credits.

Momoa plays Ray Cooper, a Pittsburgh man with a loving family. Ray’s a good, hard-working dude, but his life takes a tragic turn when his beloved wife Amanda (Adria Arjona, “6 Underground”) is struck with cancer. Ray does everything within his power to help pay for Amanda’s treatment, working multiple shifts and even mortgaging the family home. Despite his best efforts over the course of weeks and months, it isn’t enough, leaving himself and daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced, “Spirit Untamed”) to wait and hope for a miracle.

When a doctor approaches Ray about a potential release of the generic version of a drug that could potentially save Amanda’s life, he allows himself to hope. But just as quickly, those hopes are dashed when pharma giant BioPrime prevents the release. It’s then that Ray swears revenge against the company – specifically CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha, “Headlock”) – should his wife succumb to her illness.

And succumb she does.

Months pass. Ray spends all of his free time at a local fight gym; Rachel shares her dad’s love for combat sports. Their sadness remains – as do the many bills. One day, Ray receives a phone call – a reporter named Martin Bennett (Nelson Franklin, “Hero Mode”) is seeking Ray’s help. Bennett wants to break a story involving BioPrime and bribery and thinks Ray’s story could help make his case. Suddenly, a mysterious man attacks and kills Bennett; Ray tries to defend himself (and Rachel, who secretly followed him to the meeting), but both end up badly hurt.

Two years later, Ray is still obsessed with BioPrime. He makes his way to a gala where Keeley is speaking and confronts him – violently. It’s here that Ray learns that there’s a whole lot more to this story, with BioPrime’s chairman Vinod Shah (Raza Jaffrey, “The Rhythm Section”) engaged in all manner of nefarious dealings. And the deeper Ray digs, the higher up the conspiracy seems to go.

Ray and Rachel are forced to go on the run, even as Rachel establishes contact with Detective Sarah Meeker (Lex Scott Davis, TV’s “Rebel”), the FBI agent leading the pursuit of her father. But as Ray continues to push for his revenge, it becomes ever clearer that nothing is as it seems … and he won’t be able to protect his daughter forever.

“Sweet Girl” spends its first hour or so rolling along in the usual way. Pretty basic, boilerplate stuff, honestly. The direction (by Brian Andrew Mendoza) and script (by Gregg Hurwitz and Phillip Eisner) are competent, albeit formulaic – there’s nothing that happens along the way that you haven’t seen a million times before. The action set pieces are fine, the usual jittery quick-cut business, but at least Momoa knows how to handle himself in these kinds of sequences – dude certainly looks like he knows how to fight, which lends an air of verisimilitude to the proceedings. He’s also got a surprisingly effective Dad Energy when he wants to, which helps with the father-daughter family dynamic. Still, all straightforward and generally unexciting.

But then we hit that third-act pivot and … well, now we’ve got something. I’m not sure that the shift (which I won’t be spoiling) fully works – there are significant questions that it opens up with regard to what we’ve seen previously, and that’s leaving aside how it impacts the film’s final 30ish minutes – but there is no denying that it results in something exponentially more interesting. Not better, necessarily, but definitely more interesting. Better to swing big and miss than to just go down looking, right?

Performance-wise, Momoa is pretty solid here. He’s believable in the action stuff AND in the dad stuff; there aren’t a ton of actors out there who can swing that combo. Merced is very good throughout – another person who can handle the physicality while also capturing the daughter-in-distress vibe. Bartha’s the appropriate amount of slimy, as is Jaffery. Arjona is good, though she’s primarily a plot device. Amy Brenneman is solid in a few scenes as an elected official engaged in a back-and-forth with BioPrime. Oh, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo has some fun as our requisite mysterious assassin.

“Sweet Girl” is the kind of movie we should probably expect from Momoa between aquatic Aquaman adventures, a serviceable action flick that derives just enough benefit from his considerable charisma to move from “distinctly average” to “slightly above-average.” If you’re Netflix, you’re taking that all day.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Thursday, 26 August 2021 12:28

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