Halle Berry wins and loses the fight.
Halle Berry makes her directorial debut of “Bruised,” a fighting drama made for Netflix, which should have done more than succumb to the cliches and subplots. In it, she casts herself as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter named Jackie Justice, who steps out of the ring in disgrace, and starts cleaning up houses to make ends meet. She lives with her manager and boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto), and they both come across her 6-year-old son Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.), whom she gave up for adoption and comes to her doorstep when his father gets murdered.
She gets another fighting shot with a new trainer named Bobbi (Sheila Atim), whom she eventually has a would-be love story with, and a corner man (Stephen McKinley Henderson), who offers her words of wisdom in the ring. While the little boy stays with them, Jackie struggles to get him to talk, and her boyfriend starts to become more abusive. And to make the script more generic, her mother Angel (Adriane Lennox) demands custody of Manny, because of how she struggles to balance her life as a mother and MMA fighter.
Shamier Anderson, whom I really enjoyed in Netflix’s other feature “Stowaway,” is also cast here as Immaculate, the head of the MMA league, who arranges the final showdown between Jackie and Lady Killer (real-life MMA fighter Valentina Shevchenko).
Half of “Bruised” works when Berry wants to expand her horizons by taking on directing a film about fighting, in the vein of “Creed,” “Rocky,” and “Million Dollar Baby.” They may be boxing movies, but they still want their heroes to fight hard in the ring, and they also want them to keep their troubles at bay. In front of the camera, she does a good job when she keeps her tone in order, and has some supporting actors along the way. Atim delivers moments of value, and both she and Berry have respect for LGBTQ community, even though its never fully resolved. And Boyd, Jr. does a nice job playing a reserved kid traumatized by his past and struggling to connect with his mother without the generic fighting and movie kid cliches.
But the other half of the movie is basically more of the same. Its subplots follow too closely to the rules of a sports drama. They have to have custody battles, rules about when to arrive for training, angry boyfriends, arguing, and how the main heroine tries to learn how to be a better mother to her son than in the past. Some of it is well-acted, but they’re mostly predictable and dull. Even the final fight isn’t all that exhilarating. I’m not much of a sports fan, so I didn’t really care for everything going on in the ring.
I’d like to take this moment to say: Berry might be on to something if she’s going add directing to her repertoire. She has the potential to go to new heights. If she can win the Oscar for her performance in “Monster’s Ball,” released 20 years ago, then she can be a filmmaker, too. But only if she can push herself to the next level. She has to have something vivid and original within her direction, and she has to overcome the obstacles along the way. “Bruised” has potential, but it misses the mark.
In Select Theaters This Friday
Streaming on Netflix Next Wednesday