Halle Berry leaves it pretty late to turn on the energy for her directing debut – until the final round, in fact. But this fight movie, in which Berry herself plays a burned-out MMA fighter struggling to make a comeback, concludes with an extended showdown in which her character gets climactically in the cage with a ferocious UFC champ called Lady Killer, played by real-life martial artist Valentina Shevchenko, in front of a packed crowd eager for an ass-kicking. Berry makes it look good; she faces off with the real deal and she herself looks like a perfectly plausible deal. You’ll forgive the cliches and sentimentality that went before … just about.
Berry plays Jackie Justice, a renowned fighter who was brutally beaten in her last match, as a result of being exploited by her abusive boyfriend-slash-manager Desi (Adan Canto), and slumps into depression and alcoholism. Then her own mother (Adriane Lenox), insists that Jackie starts looking after Manny (Danny Boyd Jr), her young son from a previous relationship. Moreover, a big-time MMA manager (Shamier Anderson) contacts Jackie, looking to set her up in a new fight for cynical reasons of his own. All these things combine to inspire in Jackie a new purpose, and she approaches a trainer, Bobbi (Sheila Atim) who works with grizzled veteran Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson) – they of course see in Jackie a glimmer of the right stuff, and the only way is up.
All the constituent scenes in this film, scripted by newcomer Michelle Rosenfarb, are very broad, Bobbi’s character is a little underwritten and the ending itself is broadly predictable, but Berry brings commitment and focus to the drama. She wins on points.