A girl falls in love with a brooding bad boy, a toxic relationship, and a dash of softcore erotica aimed at the teen crowds. These are some of the formulas that won a lot of fans when Anna Todd wrote her ‘After’ stories on Wattpad – a result that inspired not one but four movie adaptations, with the fifth one set to arrive this year. Wattpad refers to an online storytelling platform designed for aspiring writers to write and publish stories, allowing them to engage with other readers and writers too.
Anna Todd is one of the famous Wattpad writers that got her the big break, and so does the Malaysian-born Claudia Tan, whose ‘Perfect Addiction’ on Wattpad became among the most-read web novels at a whopping 85 million. Both ‘After’ and ‘Perfect Addiction’ share thematic similarities but only to a certain extent, with the latter taking place in the world of underground MMA competition.
The story focuses on Sienna Lane (Kiana Madeira), an MMA trainer who falls in love at first sight with one of the fighters named Jax (Matthew Noszka). They fall madly in love, and even when Jax ends up in an accident that injures one of his legs, she dedicates her time to helping and supporting him in every way she can. One day, Sienna comes home to find out Jax is making out with her younger sister, Beth (Bree Winslow).
Torn and devastated, Sienna moves out, only to find herself running out of money and even has no place to stay other than sneaking into a gym. Fortunately, her best friend, Brent (Nicholas Duvernay), introduces her to his adopted brother, Kayden (Ross Butler), who has a room available for rent at a reasonable price. Sienna and Kayden get off on the wrong foot the first time they meet.
But after Sienna discovers he happens to fight Jax in an underground MMA match one night, she sees it as an opportunity not only to seek revenge on Jax but also to train Kayden to fight better in exchange for letting her stay in his place. Of course, things take a familiar turn when Sienna falls in love with Kayden.
The fact that Claudia Tan managed to find fame at the tender age of 17 when she wrote ‘Perfect Addiction’ and won Wattpad’s 2015 Wattys of the People’s Choice award was no doubt an inspiring story. Her popularity didn’t stop there after she got her web novel published in physical forms last year and even adapted into a feature film. I wish I could say the same for the movie. Still, Castille Landon’s direction suffers the same ill-fated approach seen in her last two ‘After’ feature adaptations, including ‘After We Fell’ and ‘After Ever Happy.’
Everything here is glossed over with Stephanie Sanditz’s chintzy adapted screenplay, on-the-nose, and hokey dialogues, and not to mention obligatory pop and ballad songs playing in the background every now, as well as lots of voiceover narrations. The latter tends to get on my nerves hearing Sienna speaking her mind that reminds me of ‘Dune’ (no, not that Denis Villeneuve’s impressive 2021 reboot but rather David Lynch’s awful 1984 version) and even the Tom Holland-led cinematic stinker of ‘Chaos Walking.’
The love story is as perfunctory and melodramatic as it goes, while the erotic parts are glossily shot like the characters are showing up in a music video. At one point, there’s an illicit fantasy sequence showing Sienna engaging in a threesome with Jax and Kayden in a shower that is curiously unerotic and, dare I say, tame, lacking the necessary erotic tension and sparks to make it work in its favor.
The plot tends to be questionable in some parts, like how it is an underground cage fight that got raided by the police earlier in the movie looks as if everybody can casually walk out of place with no arrests being made whatsoever.
It was a blatant oversight that is too impossible to ignore. Then, there’s Sienna. She is first introduced as a confident young woman who successfully trains fighters in the MMA sports, and while I get the familiar ‘love-can-cloud-one’s-judgment’ angle after we see her falling for Jax and so on, the subsequent post-breakup love-hate relationship, as well as all Sienna’s fickle-minded and self-contradicting thoughts, made me difficult to root for her character.
It’s a pity because Kiana Madeira previously did a good job in Netflix’s ‘Fear Street’ trilogy in 2021, and although she did radiate charisma while making quite an impression in her physically-demanding performance, the way her character is hastily written as if she belongs to one of those flimsy soap operas. Maybe there’s a target audience for this kind of teen-romance erotica fluff, but seriously, Kiana deserves better screen treatment than what she’s getting here.
Both training and fight scenes are adequately shot with (thankfully!) none of the jittery camerawork. At least I can see what’s going on in the fight even when it takes place in an ambiently lit caged arena illuminated with spotlights. Landon may have treaded the all-too-familiar grounds, but it’s hard to deny she has the knack for making her movie look aesthetically pleasing with the help of Maciej Sobieraj’s atmospheric cinematography.