The advertisements for Southpaw have been driving me mad every time I go to the movies lately. No matter how I timed my entrance at the theater it seemed I was always just doomed to hear Eminem echo “I am PHENOMENAL PHENOMENAL PHENOMENAL” in an embarrassing fashion & I’d find myself cringing again. Much of the film’s trailer had me interested in Jake Gyllenhaal’s follow-up to his nightmarish turn in Nightcrawler, but Eminem was regrettably featured so prominently in Southpaw‘s trailer that I was expecting to take at least a half-star off my rating every time one his songs played on the soundtrack. Although Eminem’s voice is only heard twice during the film (once during a clueless in tone training montage & once during the end credits) his prominence in the trailer does point to a lack of self-awareness that prevents Southpaw from being anything too fresh or special.
It would be one thing if Eminem were something Gyellehaal’s punch drunk protagonist Billy Hope blasted in headphones to get pumped up before his boxing bouts. A down on his luck, white brute foster home survivor with a drinking problem certainly sounds like the kind of dude who might be a huge fan of the Detroit rapper, who knows a thing or two about being a down on his luck white brute with a troubled upbringing. Instead, though, Eminem’s contribution to the film amounts to little more than a business deal soundtrack tie-in, complete with an official music video. It feels like an ancient practice, dead for at least a decade, that’s much better suited for already-cynical corporate cash grabs like Juicy J’s contribution to the Ninja Turtles soundtrack or Waka Flocka Flame’s (laughably awful) collaboration with Good Charlotte meant to promote the latest Adam Sandler stinker Pixels. Instead of helping detail the character of its protagonist, Eminem’s involvement instead details the character of the film itself.
Southpaw is a mediocre film. It’s passable as a redemption story melodrama, but rarely memorable as a unique work. Even die-hard fans of boxing films in general are likely to find it difficult to distinguish its individual charms from much more distinctive examples of the genre. The story it tells is pretty easy to call from beginning to end within the first fifteen minutes or so, complete with a couple tearjerker character deaths solely meant to give Billy Hope’s inevitable final triumph some sense of meaning or purpose. Without a unique narrative or any visual touches to distinguish Southpaw (outside maybe a couple interesting 1st person POV shots in the ring), all that’s left then is the quality of the acting, which varies from Impressive, But Not Nightcrawler Impressive (Gyllenhall) to Decent (Forest Whitaker) to I’m Wearing A Hat! (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson). It’s not a terrible viewing experience (besides maybe the sequence where it tries to use an Eminem song for misguided cool points), but Gyllenhaal’s performance is the sole element in play that approaches anything near PHENOMENAL PHENOMENAL PHENOMENAL and that’s far from enough to save the whole ordeal from mediocrity. I hope the actor continues this recent trend of playing scary that started with films like Nightcrawler & Enemy, but I’d like to also like to see that talent put to much more interesting use with far fewer Enimem songs stinking up the joint.