There was a time when you could spot a bad movie right off the top, in the opening scenes.
In those days, low budget movies and badly produced movies looked like they were low budget and badly produced. The images were often grainy or murky with bad exposure and color correction. You knew they were made on the cheap and you adjusted your expectations accordingly.
These days, with the advent of better (digital) cameras and lenses and the high powered, high tech capability to enhance and embellish images in post-production, even modestly budgeted movies can look pretty slick.
Case in point, the opening scenes of the action thriller Sweet Girl, starring Jason Momoa and Isabela Merced.
The story takes place in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, instantly apparent in the dramatic nighttime helicopter shots of the city. The “City of Champions” never looked better, twinkling and aglow with beautifully rendered light and color.
The thought crosses your mind that we might finally have another Pittsburgh-based thriller on the level of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) the crowning jewel in the list of movies made here over the years. It won five Oscars and I had the minor distinction of being an uncredited extra. My left hand is clearly visible for about two seconds.
On a more serious note, the simulated police radio chatter in the opening of Sweet Girl underscored that actual Pittsburgh locations were mentioned, something that doesn’t always happen in movies shot here.
There were the iconic, identifiable bridges and buildings and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team.
( LEX SCOTT DAVIS as FBI DET. SARAH MEEKER. Cr: CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX © 2021)
The movie kicked into high gear with action taking place on the roof of the stadium—a small army of law enforcement personnel rushing a man standing perilously on the edge of the roof. That character was Ray Cooper, played by Jason Momoa. I won’t say what happens next, but it’s dramatic and effective, though not entirely believable.
What follows that scene are several flashbacks that set up the story, the tale of a man who becomes outraged when his beautiful wife, battling terminal cancer, is denied an experimental new drug treatment due to corporate greed and corruption.
(ISABELA MERCED as RACHEL, JASON MOMOA (PRODUCER) as RAY COOPER. CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX © 2021)
Essentially, it’s a modern retelling of David vs. Goliath, one blue collar guy taking on a massive, evil, corporate entity. Of course, it’s not just any guy, it’s Jason Momoa, so you know he has a pretty good chance on making good when he threatens the head of the corporation on live, national television (CNN).
He vows that if his wife dies due to her inability to get the experimental drug, the CEO is going to be toast.
Th death threat on live national television is an early indication that Sweet Girl is more interested in dime store drama than plausible reality.
Of course, the wife dies soon afterward setting the ominous wheels of revenge in motion for Ray Cooper and his teenage daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced). Like her father, Rachel is a fighter. She’s tough and resilient. And she knows that once she and her dad get drawn into this dark world, things probably won’t go well, for either of them.
(ISABELA MERCED as RACHEL. CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX © 2021)
And they don’t.
Starting with a botched, clandestine Deep Throat style meeting with an investigative journalist on a subway train which the daughter witnesses.
The meeting quickly turns into a violent, bloody fight when hired killers suddenly spring into action. Moving subway trains are always great places to stage fights in the movies. So many movies have relied on them.
The remainder of Sweet Girl is a story of survival and determination to bring about some degree of justice. Ray and Rachel have to be resourceful, they are blue collar people with limited resources on the run from professional killers working for people with deep pockets.
(JASON MOMOA (PRODUCER) as RAY COOPER, ISABELA MERCED as RACHEL. Cr: CLAY ENOS/NETFLIX © 2021)
Despite arguing about what the hell they have gotten themselves into, father and daughter make a pretty good team and work well when it counts, which is about every five minutes.
Sweet Girl doesn’t really break any new ground with regard to the basic staples of a dark thriller. It’s pretty much what you expect, with the exception of one colossal plot revelation along the lines of movies like Fight Club (1999), A Beautiful Mind (2001), Adrift (2018).
You could argue that the device dates all the way back to the Jimmy Stewart movie Harvey (1950). Hope I didn’t give it away.
While it may have worked in those other movies, it doesn’t work here.
The biggest problem with Sweet Girl is the writing, which never rises to the level of the technical credits. There are times when it just doesn’t make sense.
A good example is the staging of the stadium scene that bookends the movie. Fans are shown wearing both Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys and Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys. In equal numbers.
While we never actually see any game action on the field, we can only conclude that it represents some new form of sports entertainment in which a football team plays a baseball team.
From a marketing standpoint, what Sweet Girl has going for it is Jason Momoa whose memorable performances include his performance as Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones as well as his starring role in Aquaman (2018).
He’s done some pretty impressive work, playing powerful, sometimes superhuman men. Here, he’s relegated to being just stock character in a well-worn movie plot that tries to redeem itself with one major twist.
Pittsburghers might enjoy Sweet Girl more than anyone else. It’s fun to spot and identify all the familiar locations. Local bars and restaurants might want to run Sweet Girl and use it as the basis for a drinking game.
Everyone else might be forewarned that Sweet Girl might leave a bitter taste in your mouth.
Sweet Girl is on Netflix now.