Some years ago, Mikey (Cuba Gooding Jr) was a child listening to his father beat his mother one night, and found his father's gun, so began playing with it. When he accidentally shot the bedroom mirror, his father came downstairs to see what was going on, and instead of being angry was proud to see his son handling the firearm. Now, in the present, Mikey is a hitman who has formed an expert team with Rose (Helen Mirren) the woman who used to be his father's girlfriend, but there is bad news on the horizon: Rose is suffering terminal cancer. This hasn't stopped them from carrying out killings, but their next assignment will prove to be one which changes them forever, and all because top gangster Clayton (Stephen Dorff) wants his wife dead...
There's an odd, feeling sorry for itself atmosphere about Shadowboxer that goes some way to making it less engaging than the filmmakers might have hoped. Scripted by William Lipz, it was the directorial debut of producer Lee Daniels, and marked him out as an interesting talent who could have benefitted from more finely honed material, as it was, here he got what on the surface was a straightforward gangster movie, but whose concerns ran deeper. In fact, this was more of a study of dysfunctional families versus unlikely functional ones, with Clayton the worst father imaginable.
This is what Rose finds out when she and Clayton sneak into Clayton's mansion and execute his criminal cohorts; she ventures up to the master bedroom and is all ready to off Clayton's missus Vickie (Vanessa Ferlito) when she can't help but notice one important detail: Vickie is pregnant. As she is on the way out herself, Rose can't face kiling off one who is about to make their entrance, and in an "only in the movies" twist, the stress of having a gun pointed at her causes Vickie to go into labour. Rose delivers the baby with the help of an unimpressed Mikey and a new family unit is formed, with Vickie the mother, Rose the grandmother and Mikey the reluctant dad.
As it is, the hitpersons must cover up their failure to kill Clayton's wife by spiriting her away to a hideout, and time certainly does fly in this film as the child's birthdays fairly whizz by. While that happens, Clayton's doctor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) helps out and keeps their secret, while Vickie's best friend Macy Gray (acting about as Macy Gray-esque as she's possible to be) is bumped off - by the hired Mikey - for being too incriminating. There is violence and the rare scene of tension, but Shadowboxer is more of a drama, with Mikey living up to his newfound responsibilities, and the boy unwittingly following in his adoptive father's footsteps. The whole experience is strangely distancing, yet while the film may be a failure in some ways, it's at least more intriguing than many less ambitious successes. Music by Mario Grigorov.
[Metrodome's Region 2 DVD features two documentaries, a trailer and a commentary with the director and Gooding.]