Netflix’s “Sweet Girl” starts with a bang. The very first scene sees none other than Aquaman himself Jason Momoa standing on the roof of PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The blinding spotlight from a police helicopter beams down on him while FBI agents quickly converge. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this”, he painfully utters before leaping off the ledge and plunging deep into the Allegheny River.
That harrowing opening will be revisited later in “Sweet Girl”, a fast-moving propulsive thriller from first time feature film director Brian Andrew Mendoza. The movie has a lot on its mind and is full of ambition which is something I always respect. But (of course) it’s possible to bite off more than you can chew and sometimes things look better on paper than they do on screen.
The story (co-written by Philip Eisner and Greg Hurwitz) follows its energetic opening by taking us back several years where a loving family of three unravels after the matriarch dies of cancer. To make matters worse, we learn that a generic version of a drug that could have extended her life was squashed by a wealthier and more powerful pharmaceutical company called BIOPRIME. These early scenes are some of the film’s best and they do a good job conveying the pain that drives her widow Ray (Momoa) and their daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced) through the rest of the movie.
Six months pass and Ray is still mourning and hanging on by a string. He’s contacted by a spooked journalist with damning evidence linking the soulless and smarmy BIOPRIME CEO (Justin Bartha) to all sorts of nefarious shenanigans. Ray wants to hear more, but soon he finds himself and Rachel neck-deep in a conspiracy that very powerful people will do anything to keep quiet.
A dead body or two later and the daddy-daughter duo are on the run from the FBI, armed corporate goons, and one particularly psychopathic hitman (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Meanwhile big pharma and Congress buddy up and Ray learns the corruption goes a lot deep than one greedy company.
It goes without saying that “Sweet Girl” delves into a lot of relevant material worthy of exposure and critique. And does an admirable job pointing a finger at some very real issues. But that’s about all it does, and it’s surface treatment doesn’t really get to the heart of the problem much less how to fix it.
But in the movie’s defense it’s not really going for anything like that. Instead Mendoza crafts what amounts to a throwback action thriller that allows the beefy Momoa to let loose in a number of intense and well-shot fight scenes. It’s a pretty solid performance from Momoa who’s only outdone by Merced who has a youthful innocence but also a grit and tenacity that really amps in the final act.
Aaaaand about that final act. It would be a dereliction of duty if I didn’t mention the ‘big twist’ that turns the entire movie on its head. In one sense I love the audacity and to be honest, I worked hard to try and make it work. But it’s such a wild and outrageous turn and making it fit with everything we’ve seen before is too much of a chore. A second viewing does make sense of a few things, but not enough to fully buy what the movie is trying to sell.
The film does have its share of good scenes (there’s a terrific diner scene yanked straight from Michael Mann’s “Heat”) and the action is exciting more often than not. There’s also a good father/daughter chemistry between Momoa and Merced that drives most of the story and legitimately makes us care. At least until the movie pulls the rug out from under us with a plot twist that’s far more gutsy than effective. Still, Mendoza kept me locked into his story, confused and frustrated at times, but entertained throughout. And sometimes that’s all I really need. “Sweet Girl” is now streaming on Netflix.