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Thursday October 5, 2000

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'Girlfight' hits hard with story, acting

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By Oliver White

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Despite technical gaffs, first-time director Kusama succeeds

Grade: B+

Director Karyn Kusama's "Girlfight" embodies the soul and spirit of modern-day boxing as convincingly as fight movie classics such as "Raging Bull" and "Rocky." Starring Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli and Santiago Douglas, "Girlfight" broaches the little-recognized realm of female boxing, focusing on the emotional trials of not only being a female living in the ghettos of New York, but also the need to hide one's passion and being a woman in a man's field.

Diana Guzman (Rodriguez) is one of those women who has to keep her boxing passion secret because her father has old-fashioned ideals regarding the role of women and men. He forces his effeminate son to train to box despite the son's interest in art, while rejecting the notion of his daughter being able to participate in the sport.

Rodriguez's Diana is an angry high school loner, who, while visiting her brother's boxing gym, discovers an interesting and controversial way to expend her rage. After finally agreeing to train her, boxing coach Hector (Tirelli) and Diana embark on a journey in which neither parties know the outcome of her taboo-breaking endeavor.

Although Diana must steal the money from her alcoholic father Sandro (Paul Calderon) to pay for the training, boxing is just what she needed. A fast learner and strangely carved of wood after only a week of exercise, she enters herself into the amateur boxing series held at the gym.

But before she can lay out any serious beat-downs, she falls in love with Adrian (Douglas), an Abercrombie & Fitch model-type who is also a featherweight. The plot then brings the two fighters face to face in the ring, where their personal relationship becomes an obstacle to the sport they love.

"Girlfight" proved to be an interesting story, and the acting was surprisingly superb from two unknown actors. Rodriguez shows promise, and will hopefully rise to stardom in the wake of "Girlfight" - just as long as she escapes being typecast as the tough cookie that would be more likely to punch out an eye than talk about her problems.

Perhaps Douglas will "make it" in Hollywood, although if he is as unintelligent - a few too many hits to the head - in real life as he is in the film, then remedial math may be the path to take. Abercrombie & Fitch is always hiring.

A good film overall, but the presence of the camera boom and microphone descending into the frame occurs more often than would be expected from a Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner - taking some of the intensity out of the more serious scenes. First-time director Kusama should be mildly scolded for such an obvious mistake, but the script, acting, cinematography and the fantastic score easily make up for the on-screen oversight concerning film-making equipment.