Jason Momoa has a Liam Neeson problem. In the sense that every movie that he's in needs at least one throwaway line of dialogue explaining what his character does for a living, just like how in every Liam Neeson movie, they have to explain his Irish accent. Because let's be honest, it's been years since Neeson gave up trying to mask his brogue, and there's little Momoa can do about the way he looks.
Being built like an Atlantean god has its downsides, of course. Momoa isn't going to be up for the same roles as, say, Steve Carell. But there's always going to be an overlap between the kind of movies that he does, and the ones that Neeson churns out every year. His latest, the Netflix thriller Sweet Girl, borrows heavily from films like Taken, but almost as an act of subversion, never explains what Momoa's character, Ray, does for a living.
There's no two ways about it; there aren't a lot of Jason Momoa-looking dudes out there, and if you're going to have one in your movie, you need to first explain, to a satisfying degree, who they are and where they come from. Instead, all we get is a hasty prologue in which Ray's wife dies of cancer, leaving him to care for their teenage daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced).
Director Brian Andrew Mendoza, a longtime collaborator of Momoa's - he's the man behind the breathtaking visuals of Momoa's directorial debut, Road to Paloma - inserts shots of Ray working out at a boxing gym, perhaps in an attempt to contextualise his unusual appearance. But it's unclear what life experiences enable Ray to magically turn into Jason Bourne when the situation demands.
In a fit of anger directed at the smarmy CEO of the pharmaceutical company that pulled a potentially life-saving drug from the shelves as a piece of market manipulation, Ray dedicates his life to exacting revenge for his wife's death. Inches away from her in her final moments, Ray watches the CEO on a primetime news debate, and decides that threatening his life on national television would be a good plan. So he calls up the news channel, and doing his best Neeson impression, tells the CEO that he's coming for him.
For a film that feels very current- hoodie-wearing Pharma bros have only recently been accepted as viable movie villains -Sweet Girl feels like something that would've been made in the mid-2000s.
It's the sort of movie that takes a hot-button political issue — in this case, free healthcare — and filters it through the lens of a schlocky B-movie. This would be fine, just look at the career Jordan Peele has made for himself, but Sweet Girl is at no point willing to accept its inherent lunacy. And this delusion snowballs into something even stupider, when a little over the hour-mark, the movie delivers a plot twist so ridiculous that it jolted me out of my stupor.
It's the kind of twist that even you, as a casual moviegoer, would swat away the second it crosses your mind when you're daydreaming about writing a script. There were moments, especially early on, when I wondered if the movie could actually do something as nonsensical as this, but the mere thought was immediately followed by a 'nah' of disbelief. It couldn't. Could it? Nah, no way. It couldn't.
And if a movie's willing to be this nutty (unironically, of course), you best believe that it does not give a hoot about following through on interesting ideas that it had once set up. Sweet Girl, in that moment, stops being about the broken healthcare system and one man's quest to right some wrongs, and becomes a generic revenge flick. So drastic is this about-face that someone who'd been set up as the main villain is all but forgotten in favour of an insipid assassin.
Momoa has an imposing presence, of that there is no doubt, but I wish more movies are able to tap into his potential as a dramatic performer, without feeling the compulsion to inevitably hand him a gun at some point. Emote as hard as he may, if the script resorts to resolving every problem with violence, then what even is the point?
It would've been acceptable (even appreciated) had Sweet Girl been more bitter about the world we live in, a world that's reeling from a pandemic that exposed the wealth gap and the corporate malpractices of Big Pharma. But it's rather bland.