Jason Momoa is the obligatory Action Anti-Hero on the Run and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is the ruthless assassin hunting him down — and in a moment of tense calm before the storm, Momoa’s Ray Cooper takes a seat alongside the hitman in a diner, and there’s room to talk without the immediate threat of violence because a quartet of Sheriff’s Police also happen to be in the joint having a meal.
They have a quiet, intense conversation in which the hitman tells a harrowing story from his childhood, after which Ray outlines the three ways in which this thing between the two of them will eventually end. It’s a scene with echoes of the famous De Niro/Pacino coffee shop conversation in “Heat,” but that’s the last time we’re ever going to compare these two films because it’s a fleeing moment of interest in an otherwise by-the-book thriller that spirals down the rabbit hole until all is revealed — and that’s when “Sweet Girl” makes the transition from subpar action movie to the completely and utterly ludicrous. We’re not buying what the script is selling, not for a hot second.
Momoa, still sporting his “Aquaman”-level flowing locks and big beard and still quite the hulking and formidable onscreen presence, provides voice-over narration for the story, with his Ray Cooper character spouting such wisdom as, “The past is like a dream … there are memories that shape us, molding us into what we become.” Yeah, pretty much, big fella. Ray is a working-class guy in Pittsburgh who manages a gym for fighters and is married to the kind and lovely Amanda (Adria Arjona), with whom he has a teenage daughter named Rachel (Isabela Merced). Amanda is battling cancer and it appears all hope is lost when word comes about a miracle drug called Sparrow, which is a generic and thus much more affordable version of an obscenely expensive drug manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant known as Bioprime.
But just before Amanda is to start receiving the medication, Bioprime pays off the generic drug’s manufacturer to indefinitely delay release, in order for Bioprime to maintain its monopoly on the treatment. Bioprime’s heartless and hiss-worthy CEO appears on CNN to defend his company’s practices — and Ray calls in and says, “If my wife dies, it’s your death sentence. I will hunt you down and kill you with my bare hands.” Shortly thereafter, Amanda passes away.
Six months later, the medical bills keep piling up, and both Ray and 18-year-old Rachel are dealing with some serious anger issues. That’s when Ray gets a call from an investigative journalist (Nelson Franklin) who says he’s THIS close to blowing the lid off a wide-ranging conspiracy involving Bioprime and bribes and kickback schemes, and this thing could go all the way to Washington, as conspiracies often do. This is when “Sweet Girl” makes the full segue to action movie, as Ray (usually with Rachel accompanying him) keeps getting into violent confrontations, even leaving behind a corpse or two on more than one occasion. The FBI has targeted Ray as a murder suspect and then there’s that aforementioned hitman who will stop at nothing to kill Ray, and there’s a lot of bickering between Ray and Rachel, with Ray sometimes telling Rachel to get out of the car and sometimes telling Rachel to stay in the car, and either way, they’re in way over their heads.
“Sweet Girl” is one of those movies that often seems to be set in a vacuum. There’s a brutal and bloody and deadly encounter on the subway in which the passengers just seem to conveniently disappear. There’s a shootout just downstairs from a fancy fundraiser but nobody seems to hear anything. There’s another extended shootout at a motel where Ray and Rachel seem to be the only guests. Through it all, characters spout lines such as, “You have no idea what you’re getting into,” and “I’m not putting you in danger,” and “It wasn’t right, what happened to you.”
Momoa is more than serviceable as a regular good guy whose efforts to avenge his wife’s death create a world of chaos that puts himself and his daughter in danger. Isabela Merced is a good actress with a long career ahead of her, but she’s miscast here, and I don’t want to give away even a hint of a spoiler, so we’ll just leave it at that. Suffice to say “Sweet Girl” winds up leaving quite the sour taste.