Jason Momoa tries to fight Big Pharma in Netflix’s latest limp action thriller.
Director Brian Andrew Mendoza and Jason Momoa go back way before their newest collaboration, the Netflix feature Sweet Girl. Not only did Mendoza serve as the cinematographer for Momoa’s 2018 action vehicle Braven, but Mendoza has also produced several other Momoa projects and even made a small appearance in the actor’s 2011 Conan the Barbarian movie! Unfortunately, their rich history together doesn’t inspire a greater level of depth (or basic entertainment value) in the latest entry in the Netflix DTV action world, Sweet Girl.
The screenplay for Sweet Girl, penned by Philip Eisner, Gregg Hurwitz, and Will Staples, begins with Ray Cooper (Momoa) cornered by FBI agents on top of a football stadium. How did a guy with this physique get into a situation like this? Well, it all started when Ray’s wife, Amanda (Adria Arjona), passes away from cancer. The kicker is that Ray and his daughter, Rachel (Isabel Merced), were previously told there was a drug named Spirro that could cure her — but pharmaceutical company BioPrime took it off the market just when they needed it most.
Enraged at this loss, Ray is now determined to take down BioPrime head Simon Keeley (Justin Bartha) and all those responsible for using the power of Big Pharma to hurt the little guy. Things get taken to a whole new extreme when, after two separate time jumps, Ray decides to take matters into his hands. This more violent approach to taking down folks like Keeley results in a hitman named Amos Santo (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) being sent to kill Ray and Rachel. Father and daughter are now on the run, but can they survive all the violence and grief being thrown their way?
Sweet Girl attempts to do so much in its runtime that it’s a wonder it comes up short in all its narrative ambitions. Throw enough darts at the wall and you’d expect at least one to hit a bullseye, but none of Mendoza’s darts even get out of the thrower’s hand.
The problem here is the characters, pure and simple: so much of Sweet Girl wants us to be enamored with simply the journey of Ray and Rachel, but they’re just not interesting people. The glimpses we see of their lives before the loss of Amanda make the duo look like figures ripped from a postcard vision of domestic life, not actual human beings.
Worse, the screenwriters of Sweet Girl often forget about the sense of loss and grief that’s supposed to define Ray and Rachel’s lives. These qualities vanish for long stretches of the plot before awkwardly getting shoehorned back into the proceedings. No matter where Sweet Girl takes its protagonists, they just never become all that compelling.
No matter where Sweet Girl takes its protagonists, they just never become all that compelling.
There are also weird tonal shifts in Sweet Girl that Mendoza just can’t execute properly. Most notably, Momoa breaking down sobbing in a hospital is followed up roughly five minutes later by that same actor engaging in a hand-to-hand fight scene with an assassin on a train. Some directors could make that extreme jump work, but here, the shift just comes off as clumsy, as if someone just switched the channel to an entirely separate action film. This problem persists throughout the movie, as somber ruminations on how much Rachel missing her mom getting inevitably punctuated by Ray lunging off a hotel balcony with a bad guy.
Granted, the changes in tone would be more forgivable if the action scenes were any good. However, these set pieces are largely disposable right from the get-go with a train-set skirmish that mostly looks like the bus fight from Nobody if it was incompetently edited and shot. A dire lack of creativity and fun permeates the rest of the set pieces, which occur against such imaginative backdrops as a hotel room and an abandoned fountain. Only Ray abruptly showing up to briefly dispose of foes with a piece of construction equipment gets the blood pumping. Otherwise, the violence in Sweet Girl flatlines.
As for the movie’s attempts at sociopolitical commentary, here too Sweet Girl finds itself with nothing interesting to offer. The screenplay doesn’t follow the bleaker elements of the script to their inevitable realistic conclusion: In the real world, the horrors of Big Pharma are so inextricably tied into systemic structures that confronting these injustices means confronting American society itself. Sweet Girl has no time for that — instead, it uses Big Pharma as a stand-in for any villainous omnipotent force in an action movie.
The complete lack of specific details or bold concepts in Sweet Girl leaves the cast adrift. That’s a shame since early scenes see Momoa handling much more emotionally hefty material than he’s been handed in prior productions, and he’s totally committed to tackling it. That kind of gusto deserved a better movie. The only noteworthy casting is Bartha, who does fine work embodying a Martin Shkreli analog, weasely smugness and all.
But even these nuggets of insight can’t stop Sweet Girl from feeling underwhelming. It’s an exploration of coping with grief that doesn’t have a heart; it’s an action movie with no excitement; it’s a political thriller with no real intellect. The only thing it succeeds at is giving Netflix a movie to release during late August. Given how often they’ve worked together, Mendoza and Momoa are bound to collaborate again soon. Those further creative exploits have nowhere to go but up after Sweet Girl.
Sweet Girl is currently streaming on Netflix.