Punch (2002) / Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, nudity and sexual content
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Michael Riley, Sonja Bennett, Marcia Laskowski, Meredith McGeechie, Vincent Gale
Director: Guy Bennett
Screenplay: Guy Bennett
Review published April 9, 2003
On the surface, PUNCH might seem like nothing more than an exploitation flick, what with a girl struggling with incestuous feelings toward her father, and the side story involving the world of topless female boxing. In reality, there's much more going on underneath to make this one a cut above your typical trashy fare. Written and directed by first-timer Guy Bennett, this is definitely a drama unlike any you've seen before, not just because of the subject matter, but because it never uses it to titillate, and conversely, never condemns it. That's not to say that this is a great film, as it is a bit uneven from time to time, but given the low budget, the inexperience of the creator, and the characters feelings and occupations, the fact that it is actually worthwhile is a far bigger recommendation than one should reasonably expect.
When the film opens, we meet Sam and Ariel. At first glance, it looks like they could be lovers, but in fact they are father and daughter. The mother is out of the picture, for reasons which are explained later in the film, but Ariel has spent much of her life as Sam's spouse and companion, doing everything that a real wife would with him, except one. Although she seems willing, Sam is not, and for romantic companionship, he looks to Mary, the quiet, but charming owner of a photo shop with whom he's had flirtations for a long time which have turned into seeing her socially. Sam decides its time to introduce Mary to Ariel, but there's a tension to the relationship, which ultimately culminates with Ariel assaulting Mary. This doesn't sit well with Mary's tough-girl sister, Julie, who is used to lashing out at people in revenge, and outlet which she uses in her successful career as a topless boxer. Julie demands an apology, as well as for the right of Mary and Sam to be together, and will get her wish even if she has to strong-arm it out of them. However, Mary is only willing to accept under condition that Ariel wishes it from her heart, something which seems impossible given her tempestuous nature and inadequate maturity.
Besides the impressive debut from Bennett, PUNCH is blessed with a very good cast of actors, who actually give their roles a depth and complexity that might not otherwise have been there with lesser talent. Even though there is a bit of shock value in the subject matter, the characters always stay within the realm of believability, and the strong performances during some of the more emotional scenes is definitely crucial, as the film could have become unhinged long before the ending.
Like the characters in the film, PUNCH isn't a film that should be judged from outward appearances, as underneath there's more going on than meets the eye at first glance. People who like quirky comic-dramas should definitely seek this out, so long as you aren't expecting greatness. Those who catch this in the hope of seeing nude women beating the crap out of each other, you may be disappointed, not because the film doesn't have it's share of nude women or fisticuffs, but because these scenes are played with as little sexiness as the situation merits. These aren't exactly Playboy bunnies we're talking about, either. PUNCH may not be a knockout of a movie, but it is definitely a contender.
©2003 Vince Leo