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By Phil Hall | February 24, 2003

“Shadowboxer” is a feature film trapped in the parameters of a short film. As a result, there is a great deal of action and emotion unattractively compressed and virtually screaming for a fuller chance to breathe.
The focus here is on Reena, a malcontent teenager living in a squalid apartment with a mother who is constantly humiliated by her obnoxious boyfriend. Reena has no respect for anyone or anything and she doesn’t feel guilty about picking fights with her would-be boyfriend or shoplifting from the supermarket where her mother is a cashier. Inevitably, Reena’s attitude gets the better of her and the worst of her mother’s boyfriend, resulting in a violent attack that puts Reena in a jail cell where she passes the time by slicing lines in her arm with a sliver of metal.
Filmmaker Vilka Tzouras clearly has an eye and ear for relating the horror and misery of an at-risk teenager’s dead-end world. The angry and frequently pathetic fights between Reena and her mother are blistering, and the performances by Melissa Martinez as Reena and Iris Little-Thomas as her mother are stunning in the intensity of their frustration with the world, each other and themselves.
But unfortunately, the film’s 28-minute running time is overclogged with too many conflicts which cannot possibly be addressed with any degree of completion. Reena’s weird relationship with her sort-of boyfriend seesaws between tease and tantrum without ever being resolved, and another friendship with a violent neighborhood girl who beats up rival teens on the street comes out of nowhere and abruptly halts. The film’s violent conclusion and Reena’s exile behind bars is telegraphed too far in advance to have any real impact, and the film’s final moments (Reena’s mother confronting her at the juvenile detention facility) beg for further exposition.
I am not certain if “Shadowboxer” is intended as a calling card for a longer film. If this is the case, then by all means it deserves to be expanded. There is a wealth of talent associated in this production, and with more time the story presented here could turn into something significant.

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