As soon as those words are uttered in Halle Berry’s directorial debut, “Bruised,” you know they’re going to come back to haunt Jackie Justice, a former MMA fighter of once-great potential who’s been retired since having a meltdown in the ring.
This is one of the many cliches covered in Michelle Rosenfarb’s screenplay, which strains desperately to be relevant but only succeeds in using one tired trope after another during this slog of a film.
Reduced to cleaning houses for a living, Justice lives with her abusive boyfriend (Adan Canto), who constantly pesters her to pick up the fight game again, hoping to get a cut of her winnings as her manager. It’s a dead-end existence that can only lead to tragedy, but as chance — and convenient screenwriting — will have it, Justice gets the motivation she needs to pick up the gloves once more.
Actually, it’s dumped in her lap in the form of her 8-year-old autistic son, Manny (Danny Boyd Jr.). Seems the young man was living with his father, who was tragically killed, and now, the kid’s sitting on our heroine’s doorstep with nowhere to go.
Well, you can see where this one is headed, and before you can say “fight-training montage sequence,” Justice is back in the gym, punching the bag, crunching those abs and throwing jabs with the best of them. However, it’s not an easy transition, as age has caught up with her, and getting back to fighting weight is a trial. Thankfully, she has a yoga-loving lesbian trainer with a wonderfully alliterative name — Bobbi Buddhakan Berroa (Sheila Atim) — who takes her under her wing to get her back up to snuff.
In addition to this collection of clichés, Justice has to contend with a neglectful mother and manipulative manager, all while training for a big fight and trying to connect with young boy walled off from the world. Oh, then there’s the romantic entanglements that develop between her and her trainer. Yes, we’re dealing with plot overload here, and it all contributes to a film that feels nearly twice as long as it actually is.
In addition to the narrative culture, many scenes run too long, while others should have been excised as they fail to move the plot forward. Berry falls prey to the trap so many first-time directors stumble into, as the movie bogs down.
I think debut filmmakers are so in love with every single scene they’ve shot that they resist to leave anything on the cutting-room floor. That’s certainly the case here, and the result is a movie that refuses to move, sitting there for us to admire and little else.
To her credit, it looks as if Berry put in some serious work, as she’s convincing during the fight scenes, looking as if she could take any challenger who comes her way. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the chops to film an exciting fight scene, preferring to move her camera erratically and cut judicially, rather than hold a sustained shot so we can admire the athleticism on display. The final fight is more a blur than a bout.
Like an undercard that’s held just to kill time before the main event, “Bruised” is a time-waster that fails to live up to its potential, an instantly forgettable also-ran that’s happy to cover well-trod ground and little else. A knockout, it ain’t.