By Alex Purnell. Director Bailey Kobe brings us a woman power drama about a young MMA fighter training for an upcoming fight. Unfortunately, Rag Doll doesn’t deliver much of a punch and goes slack in its effort to grapple attention.
Boasting a mostly female cast, Rag Doll’s premise is nothing new. Infested with bad writing, clunky technical difficulties and painful editing, the first half carries itself kicking and screaming. A frustrating watch, it’s biggest positive laying in some great performances from lead Shannon Murray playing the reserved yet powerful Nora, as well as some brilliant casting decisions with Coach Rosheen (Dot-Marie Jones) and Aisha (Roxana Sanchez), with all three carrying the weight of this film, particularly in the second half.
Rag Doll follows Nora, a young woman who is training to be an MMA fighter whilst also juggling looking after her mother who suffers from cancer and a cleaning job at a motel. She grows close with sparring partner Aisha, who is training to fight in an upcoming tournament. To try and improve her and her mothers quality of life, the inexperienced Nora enters the competition in a bid to snag the $100,000 prize. From intense sexual pressure between her and Aisha too her unpleasant side hustle as a prostitute, there’s a lot of untapped potential to Nora’s character which just wasn’t touched upon, with frustrating un-finished or un-developed narratives putting a strain on the film as a whole.
The two biggest crimes committed are the messy plot and the unnatural and ungainly dialogue. Most evident within the first hour, some conversations are nearly unwatchable, the first scene in which this is largely noticeable is Pharmacy store, introducing the side-character and love interest of the film Jason (Dante Basco). After Nora finds out that her mother’s cancer medication is no longer fully covered by her healthcare plan, good-guy Jason steps in to pay the $70 bill needed. This develops into an incredibly awkward and strange dialogue sequence between the two and the pharmacist. For the most part, the scene is ruined by bad delivery and jagged editing, in which it feels like the direction they were going for was a natural conversation but felt more so like it was written by an alien attempting to mimic human interaction. The entire romantic plot between Jason and Nora is a complete write-off with no chemistry, build-up or payoff.
Despite this, Rag Doll vastly improves in the second half, breaking through into the much stronger MMA-training and fighting side of the story. Although the majorly undeveloped relationships make what could be some of the intensely emotional scenes seem rather half-baked, it’s fighting sequences are engaging and at points tense.
In fact, the build-up to the competition was an overall highlight, creating great moments for the lead, and in the ring, a mix of good sound design and claustrophobic shots generated some compelling and exciting moments. Because of this, It feels like the film would have greatly benefited from concentrating more so on the MMA narrative, but instead attempts to take on too many idea’s, failing to satisfyingly conclude any of them.
In short, a disappointing first half fails to build momentum for the second. Although its brilliant to see a female-centric sports film centred around what is considered to be a male-dominated sport, it feels like Rag Doll tapped out in the first round.
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