LONDON: For her directorial debut, Oscar winner Halle Berry throws herself wholeheartedly into the role of Jackie ‘Pretty Bull’ Justice — a former UFC fighter who left the sport in disgrace and now scratches a living as a cleaner in ramshackle Newark, careening from one drink to the next and arguing with her manager-turned-boyfriend Desi who wants her to get back in the ring.
When Desi tricks Jackie into attending an underground fight night, she catches the eye of local promoter Immaculate, who offers her a comeback fight and sets her up with his head trainer, Buddhakan. Oh, and on the way home, Jackie’s estranged mother shows up with Manny, the son Jackie left when he was an infant, now returned to her after his father was killed in a shooting. As the pressure at home ratchets up, Jackie throws herself into training, battling not only her opponents in the ring but, it turns out, her inner demons too.
It’s a metaphor, see? And it’s not the only time that Berry’s movie is a little heavy handed with its use of tried-and-tested symbolism. “Bruised” is, in fact, the latest movie in the “Rocky” franchise in everything but name. Seemingly unaware that audiences may have seen other fighting films, Berry shamelessly mines the genre for every bloody cliché and underdog trope going, mashing them all together into a movie that is perfectly serviceable — it’s competently directed, and nobody can doubt Berry’s commitment to the role — if extremely familiar.
Berry’s co-stars — Shamier Anderson, Adan Canto and British actor Sheila Atim — all get the time to flex their creative muscles and there is some enjoyment to be found in this female-led story of hard-won redemption. But the film is dominated by such a feeling of déjà vu that it becomes overpowering. Every story beat is predictable, and even the brutal climax feels a little by-the-numbers. “Bruised” is a decent movie, but it’s a decent movie the audience will almost certainly have seen before.