Here’s the short version; did you see Rocky V? Good, then you’ve seen Southpaw without forced emotional distress. Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the Light Heavyweight Champion of the world and living the dream, but after defending the title and adding to his 43-0 record (sound familiar, Floyd Mayweather?) he is put on the spot by fast talking, Columbian contender Miguel ‘Magic’ Escobar (Miguel Gomez), challenging Hope’s masculinity and goading him into a fist fight after a benefit for a children’s foundation that gets his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) shot and killed in the scuffle by one of Escobar’s entourage.
Did I mention that he’s an Orthodox fighter and not a Southpaw? Well, we’ll get to that a little later, but first here’s the rest of the Rocky rip offs.
Hope loses everything he’s worked so hard for to get out of Hell’s Kitchen, NY in order to make it to the top of the world and is convinced by “friend” and manager Jordan Mains (50 Cent) to sign a Three-Fight $30 million contract with HBO that would have been considered lucrative in 1988. Hope returns to the ring only 8 weeks after his wife’s murder, losing the title because his corner men threw in the towel, attempts suicide, has his daughter taken into protective services and placed into the same horrible system where he and his wife were raised.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”…he’s an Orthodox fighter and not a Southpaw.”][/pullquote] Still not sounding like a Rocky III, IV &V rip off yet? Okay, well, hold on. Hope seeks out the trainer of the one opponent who really beat him, but you never can depend on the judges, Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker), the Black Sage who will put him on the path back to championship contender where he can fight the system and Escobar to recapture vain-glory.
Wills gives Hope a job cleaning the gym (stolen from Rocky II) and a kid named Hoppy (Skylan Brooks) trains there, idolizing the champ (borrowed from Rocky Balboa). Hoppy has a crappy life; there’s one scene where they talk about his mom leaving, that’s why he’s wearing two-day old clothing, then the next time he’s mentioned, Hoppy was shot and killed by his father for protecting his mother… and the kid is forgotten about at this point as are the fleeting emotions attached to every situation in this film.
Here’s where the Rocky I rip off comes in, Hope is given an exhibition fight, using the techniques that Wills taught him to fight in a church basement against a Golden Gloves champion. No surprise, Hope wins and here comes Jordan Mains (Tony Burton’s “Duke” character from Rocky V) offering him a 6-week camp to get ready for a fight with Escobar to regain the title, which will be promoted as a grudge match over the murder of Maureen. Oh, what about avenging Hoppy? Forget him, he’s dead too.
Now you’re asking out of frustration, “Hey, R.C.! What’s the deal with the title? It’s called Southpaw, why does he fight Orthodox?” Here’s the rub, Wills teaches him a TWO PUNCH combination that forces Hope to switch stances to Southpaw. It’s a right jab, that isn’t really a right jab. It’s a punch where as he’s throwing a right cross, he steps into it with his right foot, adding power behind the punch setting up a left uppercut. Do you remember in Rocky II where he couldn’t see out of his left eye so he had to learn how to fight Orthodox? Sort of the same in reverse.
OH! and he never mentions avenging Maureen or Hoppy, but screw it, they are both dead, this paper champion’s boy killed his wife, but that’s not important. Escobar stole his manager and long time trainer, but that’s also insignificant! I rarely spoil the ending but screw it, they didn’t care about Maureen, I don’t care about this poorly written story that goes for moments cheapening the emotional trauma that real people suffer every day.
Escobar knocks Hope down twice in the fight and leads the first half of the fight. Hope makes a comeback in the middle rounds, gives up rounds 10 and 11, but wins round 12 with the Southpaw Switch, knocking Escobar down only once! It goes to the judges, and it’s a split decision, which is total BS! Your winner and new Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, Billy Hope!
Great actors cannot save a horrible story and this cliche filled crap fest is hopeless…see what I did there? Gyllenhaal looks amazing, but to suspend disbelief that Bubble Boy grew up in Hell’s Kitchen? Come on, he doesn’t look like he could have barely survived Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen, let alone the depressed area of New York City.
Forest Whitaker is amazing as always and, Rachel McAdams for her glorified cameo was the best part of this flick, Oona Laurence is fantastic as the smart ass brat Leila that is smarter than her father. However, this smart ass, spoiled brat character needs to die a fiery death. Leila slaps her father in the face repeatedly because she’s upset about him following the rules set forth by the court and wishes him death.
[blockquote cite=”Side Bar: Listen people, your kids aren’t your friends. They aren’t your equal. My dad would have broken my hand if I was ever dumb enough to lift a finger towards him, and yet in virtually ever American movie or television show since Roseanne, where the kids have been smarter than the parents. Now for those of you who are questioning this portion, I’m not talking about Laurence, I’m talking about her character, so relax on jumping to the comments section and being a keyboard warrior.”][/blockquote]
Instead of being a beautifully composed concierto, Southpaw is just one giant monotone sour note. It’s completely predictable, you don’t care about any of the characters, and every terrible thing that happens is just a punch to the throat without resolution. If you want a boxing movie where a guy loses everything and now fights to his glory, check these out instead: The Champ (1931) with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper, it’s remake with the same title that came out in 1979, starring Jon Voight and Ricky Schroder, and Rocky V (1990) the mega-flop that still outshines this disaster starring father-and-son duo Sylvester and Sage Stallone.
Southpaw opens nationwide Friday, July 24, 2015. It will be roughly 2 hours of your life you will never get back.