'Bruised' review: Halle Berry's UFC drama isn't a knockout
Courtesy of Netflix
Global, Oscar winning superstar Halle Berry’s directorial debut “Bruised” is the type of prestige Oscar bait drama saturated in cheesy sports movie melodrama, undercooked relationships and devoid of any stakes or authenticity. Feeling ripped from the days of straight-to-VHS, “Bruised” has nothing new or interesting to say about boxing and gives Berry, who is in front of the camera too, nothing meaningful to chew on. It’s a checklist of stereotypes from the down-on-her-luck fighter who can’t hold a steady job, the abusive boyfriend yelling: “You’re nothing without me!” to “The Blind Side” subplot of inheriting an adoptive little boy who doesn’t mutter a single syllable. First time writer Michelle Rosenfarb gives no spice other than generic line readings stuck on a loop until we inevitably get to the championship match that’s neither exciting nor engaging.
“Bruised” follows Jackie (Berry, who obviously underwent a transformative workout regime to get in tip-top shape), a disgraced UFC fighter once on her way to a title match before lousy manager/hulking boyfriend Desi (Adam Canto) committed to a fight she was wildly unprepared for. Detailed in an over directed, dramatic opening segment that sets the tone for how the rest of “Bruised” will go, Jackie has since retreated from the boxing lifestyle trying to hold down steady work as a maid for the wealthy (though that doesn’t go well after she assaults a child). Desi wants her to get back in the ring, but considering how toxic and temperamental the relationship is, it’s hard to believe he wants the best for Jackie. He takes her to one of those underground fight clubs where she beats the ever living shit out of an unsuspecting fighter and gains viral notoriety from the local gyms. Perhaps a comeback isn’t out of the equation.
That’s already enough juice for the ensuing two hour inspirational montage, but the screenplay throws another curveball when Jackie’s six-year old son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr) who she gave up for adoption, shows up on the doorstep after his father is killed. It’s a forced, uninvolved subplot used to mentally stifen Jackie’s resolve but lacks the warmth of other parental on screen relationships. Nevertheless, shouldering baggage with her own mother, Jackie takes Manny under her care while training for a title fight that could finally get life back on track. All the first-time parenting mishaps, like being late to pick up the child from school, or leaving him unattended long enough to start a small microwave fire, are displayed. And in one of several over-the-top scenes, Desi’s frustration over the current living situation hits its peak and he destroys Manny’s musical instruments while Jackie lays bleeding on the floor.
You’d think leaving Desi would solve the issue, but the second act replaces that drama with Jackie’s overbearing mother and the personal squabbles and mishaps keep piling up. There’s another forced romance added late in the third act and a sizable cast including Stephen Mckinley Henderson, Shamier Anderson, and Sheila Atim aren’t utzlied to their potential. They’re playing archetypal characters going through the motions from one scene to the next. Berry occasionally captures a few tender moments between herself and young Boyd Jr, but “Bruised” is an airless exercise stretched beyond the realm of plausibility. Every decision is sloppy, uninspired, and amateurish with no definitive trademark of a filmmaker ready to step into the ring and leave an impact.
BRUISED is now playing in select theaters and debuts on Netflix, Wednesday November 24th