CAST: Jason Momoa, Isabela Merced, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Raza Jaffrey, Lex Scott Davis, Michael Raymond-James, Amy Brenneman, Adria Arjona, Justin Bartha, Dominic Fumusa, Brian Howe, Nelson Franklin, Reggie Lee, Marisa Tomei, Jake Allyn, Marie Zoumanigui
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
BASICALLY…: A grief-stricken husband (Momoa) goes after the people responsible for his wife’s death, while protecting his daughter (Merced) from further harm…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
These last couple of weeks, Netflix has put out two very different fugitive thrillers surrounding big political conspiracies, and if you had to pick only one of them, please go with Sweet Girl instead of Beckett.
Not that Sweet Girl is necessarily far superior than the other movie – which it is, but not by much – but it is so much more entertaining in how utterly ridiculous it gets in terms of plot, action, character, and even its highly dramatic musical score.
Coming from director Brian Andrew Mendoza (a producer and cinematographer making his directorial debut here), the film starts briefly with a trope that honestly needs to be laid to rest: we’re in the middle of a big action set-piece, with Jason Momoa’s Ray standing on the top of a stadium surrounded by police helicopters and FBI agents, and then jumps straight into the opposite lake, only for us to then cut to “years earlier”. After that annoying trope that only exists to satisfy studio notes about giving an action beat in the first few minutes but also remove any sense of peril from there onwards, we then see Ray living a happy family life with his wife Amanda (Adria Arjona) and teenage daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced), until Amanda is diagnosed with cancer. The family’s hopes are briefly raised when they learn that an affordable new drug is about to go on the market that could treat Amanda’s illness, but then dashed when it seems that pharmaceutical company BioPrime, headed by its smug CEO Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha), has indefinitely delayed its launch to protect their profits. Ray vows bloody revenge against Keeley after Amanda succumbs to her cancer, launching a deadly crusade that sends both him and Rachel on the run, pursued by the FBI and a dangerous hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), while also uncovering a much larger plot that runs deeper than they had imagined.
For its first two-thirds, Sweet Girl plays out pretty much how you’d expect it to. You’ve definitely seen this kind of conspiracy thriller many times before, from the main characters going off-the-grid to hide from authorities and assassins sent to kill them, to the fact that there is a crooked politician somewhere in the mix (that shouldn’t be a spoiler because, well, what would a conspiracy thriller be WITHOUT a crooked politician?). Even scenes where our main action lead is evading or fighting said assassins in motel hallways and elaborate road closures fall closely in line with what your expectations might be, and it doesn’t really throw in that many twists to set itself too far apart from much more memorable examples.
That is, until the last third, when the film drops a massive bombshell that – without going into any spoilers – will either make or break the movie for you. With me, it didn’t necessarily make the film any better, because it’s a twist that really stretches the suspension of disbelief to its maximum length, but it did make things a hell of a lot more entertaining, if only because you’re just gobsmacked that a film which up until this point was just going through the standard motions would pull something as ludicrous as this out of its rear end. Whether or not you see a twist of this magnitude coming is beyond the point (though I did feel a little stupid for not picking up on it earlier in the film), because from that moment on it seems that all bets are off, and the movie embraces its over-the-top action-thriller roots way more than its first two acts combined, which suddenly makes the movie a lot more fun to watch knowing that it really does get that silly.
The one element carrying the film through its sluggish and overlong first two-thirds, and also through its much more aware climax, is the chemistry between Jason Momoa and Isabela Merced. Both are strong and accomplished actors, and do some rather good work here too, but together they establish a believable enough father-daughter dynamic where neither one of them is completely useless, nor do they fall victim to some of the dumber tropes of fugitive thrillers that would very quickly get them caught. If nothing else – and again, without giving anything away – her performance is proof that Isabela Merced needs to headline her own action movie in the future, just as Jason Momoa has managed to do with his own career.
You’ll likely find few original beats in Sweet Girl’s storytelling, and because of that it’s probable that a sense of boredom will start to creep in after a short while. However, stick with it until the other shoe not only drops but leaves a crater on the ground, and no matter what you think of it from that point onwards, you can’t deny that it becomes so ridiculous that it’s actually entertaining to watch.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Sweet Girl mostly follows the standard conspiracy thriller template, playing out exactly as you may think for at least its first two-thirds, before blindsiding the viewer with a twist that suddenly makes the film entertaining in its ridiculousness.