It's a perilous leap from on-screen to behind the lens but, high from his Best Actor gong for Training Day, Denzel Washington has taken it. What's more, his directorial debut arrives on the back of slavishly positive American reviews. Yet it is, sorry to report, bloody terrible.
Yes, it's competently made - in the sense that it's in focus, the actors hit their marks, the audio is audible - and if you really go for heart-on-sleeve, sickbag-in-pocket, predictable, tear-jerking TV movies, you might just get some semblance of enjoyment out of it. However, if you want to leave the movie theatre at all surprised or excited, then skip Antwone Fisher.
The title character (well played by newcomer Derek Luke) is a young, easily riled Navy recruit who punches one too many people and ends up in therapy. It's up to Denzel Washington's shrink to coax out why he's got such a chip on his shoulder and - ta-daa! - after a couple of silent sessions (à la Good Will Hunting), Fisher starts to blab. Cue a series of tastefully shot flashbacks to a childhood of physical, mental and sexual abuse, intercut with Fisher's present-day attempts to get a girlfriend, find his family and stay in the navy.
It's all very worthy. Doubly so given that this is a true-life tale scripted by Fisher himself, from his memoir, Finding Fish. He's had, to understate it somewhat, a tough time. But why inflict his misery on us? His experiences are grim, though hardly unique, and a prosaic, leaden script drags the clichés out interminably. As a visual stylist, meanwhile, Washington makes Kevin Smith look like Martin Scorsese.
If you must go, take a pillow.
Denzel Washington's directorial bow seeks to uplift but never takes off. A true-life hard-luck tale which bores when it should move - - if this is real life, you can keep it.