By: John M Jerva
THE REVIEW: I have been a major champion in the past for recognizing Jason Momoa as a full fledged action star and it still boggles my mind why he isn’t taken seriously yet as the actor, who is Aquaman of course, has appeared in some good old fashioned action pics most notably Braven where he was stellar in the stripped down and gritty low brow action-thriller where he got to flex his physicality more than once. He’s also flexed some action muscle on TV series like Frontier and the current See which is going into a second season. I guess maybe people still don’t see Momoa as an action guy because his filmography isn’t jam packed with these types of films but after all, I always say its quality over quantity. From his days as Ronon Dax in SyFy’s Stargate: Atlantis to now, Momoa has the commanding presence, brooding charisma and most importantly, some bad ass skills to warrant serious contention and consideration. We always talk about how there is no one around to fill the shoes of past icons but here is one such individual that might just make the cut.
With that, we have his latest endeavor from Netflix which happens to be helmed by first time director Brian Andrew Mendoza who also happens to be a producer on Braven. The film is aptly titled Sweet Girl and once you see the film, this title will speak volumes to you as it is not what it appears to be. But more on that later. Here Momoa plays Ray Cooper, a hard working blue collar family man who has been given a raw deal in that his wife Amanda (Adria Arjona) is dying from cancer. His family which includes 18 year old daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) is his whole world and when the opportunity of a life saving drug presents itself, things start to look up. Unfortunately, corporate and political greed rear their ugly heads and the drug is pulled off the market before Amanda can be given it and she dies as a result. This causes Ray to spiral into rage and despair as a result and he threatens the head of the pharmaceutical company that is the culprit.
A chance for justice shows itself as a reporter contacts Ray saying that he has proof of the conspiracy at hand but before he can spill the beans, he’s murdered by a corporate hitman played by Manuel Garcia-Rulfo who really does have a few moments to stand out as the antagonist. This forces Ray and Rachel to go on the run as the FBI and assassins close in looking to silence the two to protect their dirty secrets.
Sweet Girl is a thriller with action beats punctuated throughout and Momoa shines in the scenes of violence as he showcases his skills that he used in Braven. With films like The Suicide Squad going off the deep end, it’s refreshing to see a grounded action-thriller that has heart and substance and is timely in today’s atmosphere. Momoa is intimidating but at the same time, he gets the chance to show a more vulnerable side to his character of Ray and when his wife dies, Momoa surprises the audience by showing pain and anger in a truly gut wrenching and emotional scene. Make no mistake though, when it’s time to turn on the adrenaline, Momoa is up to the task as always and he delivers some bone crunching and realistic fights in the process.
Momoa isn’t the only one who takes center stage as young actress Isabela Merced, who was a treat to watch in Instant Family, plays Ray’s daughter Rachel who is just as tough and tenacious as daddy. Merced has no problems keeping up with Momoa in the dramatic and quieter moments and even gets to dish out some MMA fight action in the process. This is certainly Merced’s best role to date and she showcases why she’s a future star in the making.
Alot has been made of Netflix original movies and while they’ve been hit or miss with audiences, Sweet Girl is a film that may have its cliches but it isn’t a hinderance while watching it. Freshman director Brian Andrew Mendoza keeps the film on the straight and narrow and keeps it from falling into traditinal traps that have plagued other films similar to this in the past. Mendoza gives Momoa more to do here then just look pissed off and even though the film might run longer than needed, I feel that it’s sort of necessary to build the relationship between Ray and Rachel and it’s their scenes together that holds the film together and gives it the much needed emotional punch.
One drawback is that we have yet again a pair of FBI agents who are hot on the trail of Ray and Rachel played by Lex Scott Davis and Michael Raymond-James and even though they aren’t bad in the film, they still are just a necassary evil who really offer nothing to the proceedings. Unfortunately, when you have fugitives on the run in a film, you must have the obliglatory law enforcement officers who must track down said fugitives. I don’t know why but every time these types of characters are on screen in a movie, I tune out.
The real villain of the story, which I did see coming, is a disappointment as I would have preferred a more menacing foe. I guess Mendoza and crew were trying to make a point but it didn’t gel with me and this type of plot point has been done numerous times with better results.
Sweet Girl isn’t loaded with action but when it happens, Mendoza gives us in your face, realistic encounters that are stripped down and brutal in their execution. It’s also practical with solid stunt work which is always welcome from this reviewer. It’s not pretty or flashy and Momoa isn’t invincible by any means and that gives the sequences a sense of urgency and tension because he’s not his DC alter ego here. He’s just a regular guy who happens to train in MMA that is thrust into an exrtaordinary situation and after each altercation, you can tell that he’s remorseful for what he’s done. He doesn’t want to kill but he’ll do whatever it takes to protect what’s left of his family. The action scenes are like exclamation points to an already taut thriller that adds the necessary ingredient to make this movie that much more thrilling. The fights are performed well and even though there’s a lot of movement, the dreaded shaky cam never really shows itself.
Now this is a spoiler free review but there is a certain twist to the narrative that comes literally out of left field and it is this twist that seperates Sweet Girl from other revenge thrillers. Some are not going to like it and I understand why but I loved it as it made this movie more original and without a doubt makes it stand out from the pack. Too many times I hear complaints about how movies are never original and here is one that takes what you think you know and throws it completely upside down and sideways. I will say that this twist to the proceedings makes Sweet Girl even more somber and bleak. When the viewer realizes what’s going on, it makes the audience care even more for one particualr character. Did it suck? Yes it did but I commend Mendoza and screenwriters Gregg Hurwitz and Philip Eisner for making such a controversial decision. It actually raised my star rating of the film as Momoa’s performance hides an ulterior motive.
Another complaint is that this twist is unrealistic and all I’ll say on that is that as a trained martial artist, I’ve learned that size doesn’t always matter and what transpires could happen as rage will do a lot for an individual and the things they can do when the moment of truth arrives. Is it a stretch? Maybe. I do feel that some of nature’s most ferocious animals are the smaller ones and when cornered, they will fight tooth and nail to survive. You’ll see what I mean when you view the film. Give it a chance. I didn’t see this one coming and I always give props to the filmmakers when they make me do a double take.
All in all, Sweet Girl is a sad affair that speaks volumes because stuff like this actually happens to good people. It’s much more than a thriller and even though there’s beatdowns in it, there’s a lot of layers to it. Jason Momoa once again makes the arguement to finally being recognized as an action star and I feel that he has the presence and machismo to give some other actors a run for their money. This movie has a little bit of everything and even though it’s a downer, it does end with some resemblence of hope. The surprise twist is a welcome addition to the proceedings and it gives me hope that other films in the future will stray from playing it safe and give us viewers more bang for our buck. Basically what I’m saying is come for the traditional thriller elements but stay for everything else that it brings to the table.