Mission: Impossible – Fallout movie review

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

Director : Christopher McQuarrie
Cast : Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Sean Harris, Michelle Monaghan, Angela Bassett, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Kirby, Wes Bentley
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 147 mins
Opens : 26 July 2018
Rating : PG-13

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the Impossible Missions Force’s (IMF) greatest agent, heeds the call of duty again. He’ll do whatever it takes – be it jumping out of a plane, hanging off sheer cliff-faces, tearing through Paris on a motorbike, leaping across rooftops in London or hijacking a helicopter – to get the job done.

After the events of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the shadowy network of former spies known as the Syndicate is left without its leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). The IMF discovers that the remnants of the Syndicate, known as the Apostles, are now working for hire and plan to acquire plutonium to build three nuclear bombs. The Apostles also plan to break Lane out of prison.

It’s up to Hunt and his team to stop the Apostles and prevent worldwide devastation, but it will be an uphill task. Ethan, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and their boss Hunley (Alec Baldwin) also face opposition from within: CIA director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) distrusts the IMF and its methods, and assigns her top agent, August Walker (Henry Cavill), to keep an eye on Hunt and company. To complicate matters, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an MI6 agent who went deep undercover as a Syndicate operative and who has a personal grudge against Lane, re-enters the fray. Threatened on all sides, Hunt and company have their work cut out for them, as the stakes reach stratospheric levels.

The Mission: Impossible film series, based on the 60s TV show of the same name, is interesting in that until now, each film has been helmed by a different director: Brian DePalma directed the first one, John Woo the regrettable second entry, J.J. Abrams made his feature film directorial debut with the third, Brad Bird his live-action debut with the fourth, and Christopher McQuarrie directed the fifth. McQuarrie, who also penned the screenplay for this film, is the franchise’s first returning director, and he hits it way out of the park.

Fallout is a muscular yet nimble film, a bravura showcase of stunning set-pieces that are strung together by a credible, propulsive plot. McQuarrie achieves a masterful tone – this is a serious film in which Hunt faces grave professional and personal consequences, but it’s never a dour or overbearing one. It runs for 147 minutes but is remarkably light on its feet. The action set pieces can stretch for 15 minutes or longer at a time, but the audience is glued to the screen throughout.

Credit must be given to second unit director/stunt coordinator Wade Eastwood, who helps McQuarrie stage some of the most impressive stunts in the franchise’s storied history. Just when we thought this film couldn’t top Tom Cruise hanging off the facade of the Burj Khalifa or clinging for dear life onto the side of an Airbus A400M, this film gives us Cruise using the skids of an out-of-control helicopter as a jungle gym and performing an actual High-Altitude Low-Opening (HALO) skydive.

The motorcycle chase that criss-crosses through Paris and sees Hunt ride against traffic in the infamous Arc de Triomphe Roundabout pulls out all the stops and throws every trick in the book at the screen. The helicopter chase feels like two kids holding toys chasing each other around a room, made vivid, utterly convincing reality. Many sequences in this film are utterly insane but have a distinctly different feel to the joyously over-the-top set-pieces in something like the Fast and Furious franchise.

The plot manages to be familiar yet unpredictable and intelligent. There are the expected double-crosses and questioned allegiances, but the film stays compelling by striking an admirable balance between the end-of-the-world stakes and the personal stakes. McQuarrie takes sheer delight in teasing audiences with near-miss after near-miss. While nothing in the franchise has superseded the tension of the cable drop close call scene in the first film, several bits in Fallout come very close.

Tom Cruise might stumble here and there (*ahem*The Mummy*ahem*), as any actor is wont to, but in the recent Mission: Impossible films, he can always be counted on to be on top action hero form. This is not a man who half-asses anything, and the 56-year-old is consistently impressive, pushing himself to the absolute limit in the name of our entertainment. Cruise broke his ankle jumping across buildings in London, and that take remains in the film. Hunt displays nigh-superhuman strength and stamina that does stretch suspension of disbelief, but Cruise gives such an engaging performance that we just go along with it.

Cavill is enjoyable as Walker, an arrogant, lethal CIA agent, meant to serve as Ethan’s foil. An early sequence in which Walker’s presumptuousness nearly costs him and Ethan the entire mission establishes Walker as a risk-taker, but not one as canny as Hunt. Cavill is an actor who can sometimes be a bit boring, but he’s got enough charisma here to go toe-to-toe with Cruise.

The film succeeds in parcelling out stuff for everyone to do, meaning that both Benji and Luther do not feel side-lined – Rhames even gets to deliver one of the film’s most emotional moments. Pegg gets far more physical than in the preceding films, while still being the resident loveable goofball.

Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust felt like the ideal Bond girl, and the character continues to be capable and mesmerising. Even after all she and Hunt’s team went through in Rogue Nation, we’re questioning where her allegiance lies.

Vanessa Kirby is entertaining as the seductive black-market broker known only as the ‘White Widow’, effortlessly sexy with a dangerous gleam in her eye. Hunt’s wife Julia (Michelle Monaghan) is back, and how the film works her into the plot feels at once contrived and brilliant.

Alas, Angela Bassett doesn’t get much to do, glowering condescendingly and ordering Cavill about. This reviewer was afraid Baldwin would be distracting, given his high-profile Saturday Night Live role over the last one-and-a-half years, but he still is credible and handles the character’s dramatic scenes with ease, reminding us that he’s still a serious actor too.

Pound for pound, Mission: Impossible – Fallout is this summer’s best action extravaganza so far. A breathless thrill ride with just enough on its mind, incredible feats unfold with precision and finesse. It’s spectacle that will set pulses racing, and have audiences exiting the theatre thinking “yeah, this is what going to the movies should feel like every time”.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Death Wish (2018) movie review

For inSing

DEATH WISH (2018)

Director : Eli Roth
Cast : Bruce Willis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone, Dean Norris
Genre : Action, Crime, Drama
Run Time : 1h 44m
Opens : 1 March 2018
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language And Violence)

Charles Bronson had a death wish all those years ago, and now Bruce Willis has one too. Willis picks up the mantle of Paul Kersey, Bronson’s most iconic character, in this remake of the 1974 film.

Bronson’s Paul Kersey was an architect; in this remake, the character is an emergency room surgeon instead. The good doctor’s world is torn apart when a brutal break-in to his house while he’s in the hospital leaves his wife Lucy Rose (Elizabeth Shue) dead, and their daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone) in a coma. Taking matters into his own hands, Paul tracks down the perpetrators, leaving a bloody trail through Chicago. He becomes known as the ‘Grim Reaper’, attracting the attention of Detectives Rains (Dean Norris) and Jackson (Kimberly Elise). As Paul enacts his brand of vigilante justice, he becomes blind to the further consequences his actions might have.

The first Death Wish film was based on the 1972 novel of the same name by Brian Garfield. A Death Wish remake has been in the works for a while – Sylvester Stallone first announced his intention to star in it in 2006. Joe Carnahan was attached to the project and wrote the script, but had an acrimonious falling out with the studio and disagreed vehemently with the choice of Bruce Willis as star. Gerardo Naranjo and the duo of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado then came and went, with Eli Roth finally taking the director’s seat.

This turns out to be a whole lot of trouble for nothing. The 2018 iteration of Death Wish is underwhelming and unintentionally funny. While the 1974 original was gritty and nasty, this remake doesn’t have much to say. In an attempt to update the premise, we get things like people posting memes of the Grim Reaper online. It’s all rote and pointless.

It’s not like there haven’t been any other vigilante revenge thrillers between the release of Death Wish V and now. Nearly every action star has been in a similar film, with Liam Neeson’s Taken series coming to mind. Then there are direct-to-DVD films like the John Travolta-starring I Am Wrath and the Antonio Banderas-starring Acts of Vengeance. There are hints that Death Wish might delve into the socio-political implications of modern day vigilante justice, but it treads no new ground.

Bruce Willis is a big part of why this doesn’t work. He’s appeared in mostly straight-to-video action films in recent years, and seems so checked out. The character’s extreme grief and rage never crystallises, and while Willis still has the residual action hero cred from the Die Hard films, Paul Kersey never registers as a real person.

Vincent D’Onofrio, who can be downright intimidating in the right roles, is awful as Paul’s younger brother Frank, coming off mostly as whiny and annoying. The two police detectives appear laughably incompetent, missing the most obvious clues to the Grim Reaper’s identity. The villains are generic thugs, and the female characters exist only to have horrible things happen to them to motivate the hero, just as in the source material.

Director Eli Roth is strongly associated with the horror genre, having helmed Hostel and its sequel. Roth loves his gore, and there are plenty of messy headshots and a particularly painful-looking DIY surgery scene. However, there’s a surprising lack of tension, and the film never generates real intensity. Perhaps this is a result of him being hired as a replacement, hence this feeling like work for hire.

Death Wish is the culmination of a huge amount of behind-the-scenes fuss that adds up to nothing much. While the involvement of cinematographer Rogier Stoffers ensures the film doesn’t look as cheap as Death Wish’s numerous direct-to-DVD brethren, both star Willis and director Roth seem like bad fits for this unnecessary reboot.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Commuter movie review

For inSing

THE COMMUTER

Director : Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast : Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Elizabeth McGovern, Jonathan Banks, Dean-Charles Chapman
Genre : Thriller/Action
Run Time : 1h 45 min
Opens : 11 January 2018
Rating : PG-13

Commutes to and from work generally aren’t fun. We get on the bus or the train, and just want it to be over with. It’s less fun when the mass rapid transit system breaks down, or shuts down for full days for maintenance. No, we’re not speaking from personal experience, why do you ask?

For Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson), his commute home from work becomes something worse than “not fun” – a matter of life and death. Michael is a New York police officer-turned insurance agent. On the Metro North Hudson Line, Michael is approached by Joanna (Vera Farmiga), a woman whom he’s never met. Joanna gives Michael a task to solve, promising a financial reward. This mission seems simple, but gets deceptively complicated.

The puzzle soon turns deadly, and Michael must track down a mysterious passenger on the train and secure a sensitive item they’re carrying, or disastrous consequences will ensue. In addition to the passengers on the train, the lives of Michael’s wife Karen (Elizabeth McGovern) and son Danny (Dean-Charles Chapman) are at stake. Michael turns to his former police partner Alex Murphy (Patrick Wilson) for help, but the shadowy forces controlling the game are watching Michael’s every move.

The Commuter re-teams Neeson with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who helmed Unknown, Non-Stop and Run All Night. Neeson did not star in Collet-Serra’s last film The Shallows, truly a missed opportunity to have Neeson voice the shark. It’s easy to see why the star and director were attracted to the screenplay, written by Byron Willinger, Philip de Blasi and Ryan Engle. This promises to be a Hitchcockian mystery thriller, a little bit Strangers on a Train, a little bit North by Northwest. It’s a safe distance from the generic “guy holding a gun while grimacing” action thriller, which Neeson has done his fair share of.

Collet-Serra is adept at setting moods, and while he has overdosed on the stylistic flourishes in previous films, there’s just the right amount of flashiness here. We get moments like the camera pulling through a hold punched in a train ticket that’s slotted into the back of a seat, and a Vertigo-style dolly zoom effect for good measure. It offsets the dullness of the train car setting. Production designer Andrew Bridgland does a commendable job of creating an entirely believable set.

However, it soon becomes clear that this train is on a somewhat rickety set of rails. The set-up is so engrossing and the tension so masterfully constructed, one can’t help but think “the pay-off can’t be that good, can it?” When all is revealed, it’s far from a cop-out, but is still something of a let-down. The conspiracy at the heart of Michael’s predicament is patently mundane, and while the film runs through as many twists as possible before reaching the denouement, said denouement is hardly surprising. The climactic action set-piece is also a mite overblown, heavy on the visual effects and at odds with the grounded feel the rest of the movie was going for.

Neeson is as dependable a leading man as ever, and some aspects of the character have been tailored to him – Michael is an Irish immigrant, so Neeson gets to use his natural accent. Michael is meant to be a relatable everyman, but was also a cop, which functions as a built-in excuse for why he’s so good at fighting. Even so, several sequences strain suspension of disbelief, but they’re as exciting as they are outlandish so we’ll let that slide.

Neeson is pulling almost all the weight here, and the supporting cast features several interesting actors who are almost entirely wasted. Jonathan Banks, familiar to Breaking Bad fans as Mike the Cleaner, gets a nearly non-existent part. The Conjuring stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who don’t share any scenes here, are both somewhat memorable but still underutilised. Sam Neill does almost nothing. Perhaps it’s part of strengthening the red herring effect, in that we know so little about all the other characters that everyone is a viable suspect, but it’s disappointing that Neeson doesn’t get to play off any of these other performers.

The Commuter is a good deal more interesting that your average disposable released-in-January action thriller, thanks to Collet-Serra’s confident direction and an initially-fascinating mystery. Liam Neeson is also doing a little more than the typical running and gunning we’ve seen from his recent oeuvre. Unfortunately, there’s a good deal of unintentional silliness to contend with, and the resolution to the mystery is efficient but ho-hum.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

American Assassin

For inSing

AMERICAN ASSASSIN 

Director : Michael Cuesta
Cast : Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch, David Suchet, Navid Negahban, Scott Adkins
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 18 October 2017
Rating : NC16

The best-selling Mitch Rapp spy thriller series of novels by the late Vince Flynn has had a long journey to cinemas. Rapp makes the leap from page to screen as played by Dylan O’Brien. After a personal tragedy leaves Rapp scarred and relentlessly seeking revenge against a terrorist cell, he is noticed by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Kennedy places Rapp under the tutelage of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a tough operative active during the Cold War who puts Rapp through his paces. Rapp succeeds, becoming an agent of the top-secret black-ops unit Orion. Alongside Turkish-based American agent Annika (Shiva Negar), Rapp and Hurley must foil an impending attack when 15 kg of weapons-grade plutonium is stolen from a decommissioned Russian nuclear facility. They face off against “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch), a rogue former Navy SEAL and Orion operative with a grudge against his mentor, who just happens to be Stan Hurley.

Consent to Kill, the sixth book in the Mitch Rapp series, was originally meant to be the first to be adapted to film. Gerard Butler, Colin Farrell, Matthew Fox and Chris Hemsworth were rumoured to be in contention for the role. American Assassin was chosen to be adapted instead – it’s the tenth book in the series, but is a prequel, and details how Rapp became a spy.

With various book-to-film spy movie franchises out there, including the Jason Bourne, James Bond and Jack Ryan series, American Assassin needs to set itself apart from the pack. Unfortunately, director Michael Cuesta does an inadequate job where that’s concerned. The film doesn’t hold back on the violence, and superficially stands out from its less explicit PG-13 cousins in this genre. However, the character motivations and dynamics at play will be abundantly familiar to anyone who’s seen a couple of spy thrillers. Especially because this film is meant to kick off a series, it’s to its detriment that American Assassin is so unmemorable.

There’s a fair amount of globe-trotting, with scenes set in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland, Romania, Turkey and Italy. While some moments are visceral enough thanks to the brutality on display, American Assassin never generates sufficient excitement. The climactic sequence is unexpectedly spectacular but also ridiculous, a visual effects-heavy set piece that feels out of place in what is meant to be a grimy, bloody thriller.

O’Brien, star of the Maze Runner series, dials down the boyish charm and turns up the intensity to play a determined, reckless and ruthless young spy. He’s bulked up for the role and looks to be taking things very seriously, but O’Brien can’t help but come off as a little boring at times, when Rapp is meant to be unpredictable and dangerous.

Keaton is in the stage of his career where he’s playing mentor roles, and this is one that he could have easily phoned in. Instead, he delivers an energetic, hard-edged performance. However, even an actor of Keaton’s calibre would have a tough time making lines like “the enemy dresses like a deer and kills like a lion, which is what we’ve got to do” work. The fraught relationship between mentor and mentee has the makings of something electric, but does not develop in a meaningful way.

As the primary antagonist, Kitsch has a difficult time being scary. The villain being a former student of the mentor figure who has since gone rogue is about a cliché a route to go as it gets. O’Brien looks a little like Kitsch, which seems like an intentional way of highlighting that this is how Rapp could wind up if Hurley isn’t careful. Beyond that, the casting doesn’t quite work.

American Assassin lacks the nuance to be taken seriously, but is also too dour to be enjoyed as over-the-top fun. This is a film that wants to be topical – after all, Michael Cuesta directed four episodes of the political thriller TV show Homeland – but American Assassin is more preoccupied with rehashing spy movie tropes than real-world geopolitics.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Adventurers (侠盗联盟)

For F*** Magazine

THE ADVENTURERS 

Director : Stephen Fung
Cast : Andy Lau, Shu Qi, Zhang Jingchu, Tony Yang, Jean Reno, Eric Tsang, Sha Yi
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 31 August 2017
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

After making inroads into Hollywood as an executive producer and director on the TV series Into the Badlands, Stephen Fung is keeping things international with The Adventurers. The caper centres on an elite team of professional thieves, comprising mastermind Zhang (Lau), hacker Xiaobao (Yang) and slinky recruit Ye Hong (Shu). Zhang has just been released from prison, and because his earlier attempt to steal the priceless three-part Gaia necklace was foiled, hatches a new plan to procure the artefact for King Kong (Tsang), Zhang’s mentor. French detective Pierre Bissette (Reno) has been hot on Zhang’s trail, and is watching his every move following Zhang’s release from jail. Pierre convinces Zhang’s former fiancée, art restoration expert Amber (Zhang), to help him track Zhang down. The team’s mission takes them from Cannes, France to Prague, the Czech Republic, where they must foil state-of-the-art security measures to steal the components of the necklace.

 

The Adventurers is a loose remake of John Woo’s 1991 film Once a Thief. Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung and Cherie Chung played the trio of thieves in that film, with Lau, Yang and Shu stepping into their shoes here. The Adventurers promises glitz, glamour and pulse-pounding action, but only delivers partway. Taking additional inspiration from the Ocean’s Eleven and Mission: Impossible franchises, The Adventurers showcases high-tech gadgetry and scenic locations, but fails to generate sufficient suspense, amounting to a generic “go get the MacGuffin” plot. Action sequences like a car chase down the French Riviera and an All-Terrain Vehicle pursuit through a Czech forest are competently staged, but The Adventurers lacks the daring “Houdini escapes” which have become a trademark of the Mission: Impossible movies. There just isn’t enough here to put audiences on the edge of their seats.

The film is slick and polished, with Fung’s international crew contributing to the fine production values. Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, best known as the guy Christian Bale was yelling at on the set of Terminator: Salvation, captures the European locations in their sweeping, luxe glory. The computer-generated effects are a cut above those often seen in Chinese blockbusters – the spider drones deployed during the climactic sequence are especially impressive. The tone is largely frothy and comedic, and there’s an odd product placement for a novel device called the GoGirl (Google it). While Fung refrains from full-on slapstick, the relaxed vibe hampers the tension from reaching a fever pitch.

The film is well cast, with each of its leads playing to type. Lau, who has played the international man of mystery often in his later career, is convincing as a suave Danny Ocean-type who always has a trick up his sleeve. Shu, who is married to director Fung, tries to affect the ‘tough chick’ shtick ala Michelle Rodriguez and looks to be having fun doing it. Yang is the least remarkable of the trio, and the sexual tension between Xiaobao and Ye Hong is a tired device, but is good for a few laughs. Each character speaks at least a few lines of English dialogue, and the results are mixed. Zhang Jingchu, who was in an actual Mission: Impossible movie, fares best, but her character’s art history knowledge is rarely called upon over the course of the story.

Reno appears to largely be phoning it in, and sticks out a fair bit. There are several scenes in which two French characters are alone looking at security footage or staring agape at an empty vault, but they’re speaking in English. Eric Tsang pops up as a standard-issue Eric Tsang character. Sha Yi nearly steals the show as a wealthy mark who lives in a Czech castle, and on whom Ye Hong works her charms.

As a production of Flagship Pictures, Warner Bros.’ joint venture with China Media Capital, the intention is for The Adventurers to be a blockbuster that can travel. While it’s slickly produced and is bereft of the cringe-inducing excess that often plagues big-budget Chinese movies, The Adventurers stops short of being explosive entertainment, and is a trifle rather than a blast.

Summary: The Adventurers has charismatic leads, gorgeous European locations and strong production values, but its ho-hum caper plot and lack of distinctive action sequences keep it from being Grade A escapism.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Atomic Blonde

For F*** Magazine

ATOMIC BLONDE 

Director : David Leitch
Cast : Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, James Faulkner
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 55m
Opens : 27 July 2017
Rating : R21 (Some Homosexual Content)

Charlize Theron goes from traversing the arid, scorching desert of Mad Max: Fury Road to sauntering into the coldest city in this action thriller. It is 1989, days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and MI6 agent James Gascoine (Sam Hargrave) is killed by a KGB operative in West Berlin. Gascoine’s colleague and former lover Lorraine Broughton (Theron), one of MI6’s deadliest operatives, is sent behind the Iron Curtain to recover sensitive information stolen from Gascoine. Lorraine must work alongside MI6’s Berlin station chief David Percival (McAvoy), who is often drunk and unreliable. Lorraine’s mission is to track down a mark known only as ‘Spyglass’ (Marsan). She gets entangled with French spy Delphine Lasalle (Boutella), and Lorraine’s actions frustrate her superiors Eric Gray (Jones) of MI6 and Emmet Kurzfeld (Goodman) of CIA. Caught in a geopolitical firestorm and pitted against the most treacherous of enemies, Lorraine must retrieve the documents at all costs.

Atomic Blonde is based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, written by Antony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart. Directing the film is David Leitch, who co-directed John Wick with Chad Stahelski and who is also helming the upcoming Deadpool 2. Leitch employs a great deal of stylisation, crafting a brutal, sexy ‘neon-noir’. However, unlike John Wick, Atomic Blonde doesn’t lean into its heightened absurdity as much, and takes itself a little too seriously.

As with any espionage thriller, the plot is a web of double-crosses, shifting alliances and twisty reveals. Atomic Blonde hints at the fraught geopolitical climate of the time, but is far from substantive. While Atomic Blonde succeeds as a mood piece, it is too coolly detached for audiences to get involved in the story. With its title cards rendered as spray-painted graffiti text and its action set to songs by Queen, David Bowie, Depeche Mode and Kanye West, Atomic Blonde is sometimes too enamoured with its coolness for its own good.

Coming from a stunt performer/coordinator background and having co-founded the stunt collective 87Eleven Action Design, Leitch knows a thing or two about action sequences. Atomic Blonde showcases several elaborate, wince-inducing combat sequences, and doesn’t skimp on the blood splatter when people get shot in the head. It is inevitable that this gets compared to John Wick – we’ve already done that earlier in this review. As masterfully as the stunts are executed, the balletic gunfights in John Wick were more dazzling, and that film’s juxtaposition of elegance and brutality more beguiling, than the action on show in Atomic Blonde.

Theron is an outspoken feminist, and Atomic Blonde has been characterised as a feminist action movie. The screenplay is written by Kurt Johnstad, who has penned such “manly men” flicks as 300 and Act of Valour, and the film’s female characters are very much sexualised. However, Theron owns the character’s sexuality, and while it can be argued that moments like a lesbian sex scene are exploitative, she displays such conviction that it doesn’t feel sleazy. This is a role that’s right in Theron’s wheelhouse – Lorraine is slinky, lethal and unafraid to get her hands very dirty. We get very little in the way of back-story or meaningful character motivations, but Lorraine is intended to be an enigma and Theron relishes the cloak and dagger machinations her character enacts.

As is expected of McAvoy when he gets to play characters a little on the wild side, he puts in an entertaining turn. David plays second fiddle to Lorraine, and McAvoy has no qualms letting Theron take the spotlight. The openly hostile dynamic between the two ostensible allies contains glimmers of fun, but McAvoy and Theron don’t get to play off each other as much as this reviewer hoped.

Boutella’s Delphine is very much the traditional Bond girl: she’s in her over depth, and is seduced and taken advantage of by the hero(ine). It can be argued that the much buzzed-about lesbian sex scene between Lorraine and Delphine is gratuitous, but Theron has argued that it’s an example of women owning their sexuality in a mainstream film, something we don’t see a lot of. In the meantime, Goodman and Jones show up mostly to facilitate the framing device of Lorraine being debriefed/interrogated in the aftermath of her Berlin mission. Unlike Theron and Boutella, they do not have a sex scene together.

As a platform for Charlize Theron to strut her action heroine stuff, Atomic Blonde works well. However, its convoluted spy vs. spy narrative is at odds with its stylishness and devil-may-care vibe. Atomic Blonde gets bogged down with considerable amounts of plot to get through in between the action while not possessing much depth, but Theron’s virtuosic badassery make it worthwhile.

Summary: While not as compulsively entertaining as it could’ve been, Atomic Blonde packs in plenty of style and showcases Charlize Theron in full action heroine mode.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Overdrive

For F*** Magazine

OVERDRIVE 

Director : Antonio Negret
Cast : Scott Eastwood, Freddie Thorp, Ana de Armas, Gaia Weiss, Simon Abkarian, Clemens Schick
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 36min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Violence and Coarse Language)

Given the rip-roaring success of the Fast and Furious franchise, it’s a given that other filmmakers would want to hop on that souped-up bandwagon. In the vein of Need for Speed and Collide is Overdrive, which to its credit isn’t even pretending that it isn’t a Fast and Furious knockoff – not that it deserves too much credit.

Andrew (Eastwood) and Garrett (Thorp) are half-brothers, and the world’s greatest car thieves. After a job in Marseille goes awry, they end up being targeted by ruthless crime lord Jacomo Morier (Abkarian). To get Jacomo to spare their lives, Andrew and Garrett agree to steal the priceless car collection of rival kingpin Max Klemp (Schick) for Jacomo. With only a week to put together a high-stakes heist, the brothers enlist the help of pickpocket and con artist Devin (Weiss), who is a friend of Andrew’s girlfriend Stephanie (De Armas). Andrew plans to propose to Stephanie and settle down, but Garrett is adamant that they continue being car thieves since they’re in their prime. Everything is riding on the biggest job of their career, as Andrew and Garrett must outfox the most dangerous criminal elements in Europe to stay alive.

Overdrive is directed by Antonio Negret, who has directed episodes of Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Scorpion and the MacGyver reboot. It’s written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, who penned 2 Fast 2 Furious, arguably the worst entry in the Fast and Furious series. Taken director Pierre Morel is on board as a producer, taking a leaf out of his mentor Luc Besson’s playbook by making a European action flick geared towards Hollywood sensibilities. Overdrive has been in development since 2011, with Karl Urban, Ben Barnes, Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke all attached at some point or another. Instead, we end up with Scott Eastwood and Freddie Thorp. Oh well.

While it’s impossible not to view this as a bargain basement take on the Fast and Furious movies, the set pieces here really aren’t bad at all. We have a healthy number of collisions, flipping cars and explosions. The film’s climax also contains a fun sequence involving a collapsing bridge. Unfortunately, this is all bolted on to a painfully generic plot, with characters spouting excruciatingly unfunny dialogue, and the overall tone is self-satisfied rather than irreverent. The crew that is assembled for the ‘big job’ is neither distinctive nor memorable, and the big reveal is wont to inspire indifference. There are also only so many times audiences can be impressed by garage doors swinging open dramatically to reveal fancy cars. After all, one expects a garage to contain cars. If the garage doors had opened to reveal llamas, that would’ve been more interesting.

Eastwood, son of Clint, has earned his place in Hollywood as “budget Chris Evans”. Sure, he’s handsome, but is ultimately too cookie-cutter a leading man to make much of an impact. It is a little funny that he’s been cast in the actual Fast and Furious series, as an ersatz Paul Walker. The buddy dynamic between Eastwood and Thorp feels utterly forced. Thorp’s Garrett is supposed to be the witty fast-talker, but the character just ends up being annoying. Eastwood is American and Thorp is English; this is justified by having them be ‘half-brothers’, and leads into a particularly wince-inducing “brother from another mother” joke.

While De Armas seems poised to hit the big time with a starring role in Blade Runner 2049 later this year, she’s terrible here, playing the designated girlfriend who – you guessed it – gets caught in several ‘damsel in distress’ predicaments. Weiss’ Devin is meant to be seductive and wily, but she comes off as bland. Then we have the villains, wannabe Bond baddies if ever there were any – Abkarian even played the henchman Dimitrios in Casino Royale.

Negret displays a degree of style, employing several semi-clever transitions. For the first act, things move at a nice clip, then there’s that dreaded sagging midsection. Overdrive seems to know it’s not very smart, but just knowing that without doing anything with that self-awareness isn’t enough.

Summary: Bland acting, a generic plot and a smug vibe blow out the tires of what would otherwise be an entertaining if disposable action flick.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Wall

For F*** Magazine

THE WALL

Director : Doug Liman
Cast : Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli
Genre : Thriller
Run Time : 1h 30min
Opens : 29 June 2017
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Some Violence)

You won’t hear any Pink Floyd in this movie, nor will you witness Matt Damon and Jing Tian fighting of hordes of lizard beasts. Instead, The Wall centres on two American soldiers: Sgt. Allen Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) and Staff Sgt. Shane Matthews (Cena). It is 2007, and in the Iraqi desert, sniper Matthews and his spotter Isaac find themselves targeted by an enemy sniper. This is Juba (Nakli), who taunts Isaac over a radio he has taken from one of his victims. Isaac finds himself pinned down with only a crumbling section of wall for cover, as he engages in a game of wits with his unseen tormentor.

Dwain Worrell’s screenplay for The Wall was the first spec script that fledgling Amazon Studios had purchased. The script landed on the 2014 Black List of most-liked unproduced screenplays, and it’s easy to see the appeal of this project on paper. Worrell taps on his experience as a playwright to craft something more akin to a stage play than your average action drama flick.

Unfortunately, like the titular structure, The Wall begins to fall apart. It soon becomes clear that the premise, while clever, is stretched way too thin, unable to sustain a feature-length film. For most of the movie’s duration, the protagonist and antagonist communicate only by radio, and despite director Doug Liman’s best efforts, audiences will start to feel restless. It sure feels longer than its 90 minutes. Liman, having helmed The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Edge of Tomorrow, knows his way around an action sequence, but The Wall serves up precious few moments of action.

Liman does a fine job of placing the audience in the moment – one’s mouth might start to feel a little parched looking at Taylor-Johnson’s and Cena’s faces caked in dust. Viewers who are starting to feel summer movie season fatigue might be drawn to this minimalist action thriller, but The Wall just doesn’t have enough tricks up its sleeve. Contrast this with, say, last year’s The Shallows, in which Blake Lively was essentially being held hostage by a shark. In that film, the obstacles flung at the protagonist were varied enough, the threat visceral enough and the environment deceptively beautiful enough to hold our attention. Despite being wily and lethal, the enemy sniper Juba is no great white shark.

Taylor-Johnson commits to this and does look like he’s being put through absolute hell. Cena plays a supporting role, and not too much is required of him acting-wise. This reviewer thinks Cena’s true calling is comedy, and while there’s some banter between the two, this is mostly serious stuff. Nakli delivers what amounts to a purely vocal performance. Juba is erudite and crafty, quoting Edgar Allan Poe to Isaac while attempting to get under his skin and into his head. While a fun dynamic between tormentor and victim develops, Juba doesn’t feel like a multi-faceted character, even when we learn his requisite tragic back-story. The character is apparently based on an alleged sniper – it is unclear whether ‘Juba’ is a real individual, a pseudonym shared by several snipers, or merely an urban legend cooked up for propaganda purposes.

This reviewer was willing to be strung along by The Wall, even with its lulls and treading water (in the desert no less), provided there was a spectacular payoff. Alas, the ending is a cop-out, and marks the film as an ultimately hollow experience. Despite a competent leading turn from Taylor-Johnson and a convincingly harsh desert milieu, ultimately proves impenetrable.

Summary: a spare, experimental action drama, The Wall’s intriguing premise wears thin all too quickly, leaving viewers grasping at sand.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Hunter’s Prayer

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTER’S PRAYER

Director : Jonathan Mostow
Cast : Sam Worthington, Odeya Rush, Allen Leech, Amy Landecker, Martin Compston
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 31min
Opens : 15 June 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Drug References and Violence)

Sam Worthington was once a Terminator, and in this action thriller, he becomes a hunter. Worthington plays Lucas, a hitman in the employ of ruthless English magnate Richard Addison (Leech). Metzger (Compston), another one of Addison’s assassins, kills Martin (Eben Young) and Pamela (Stephanie Dooley) Hatto, torching their upstate New York home. Martin’s daughter Ella (Rush) is studying at a boarding school in Switzerland. Addison is eager to tie up loose ends, and sends his goons after Ella. Lucas takes it upon himself to protect Ella, who vows vengeance upon Addison. Because of Addison’s wealth and influence, he is untouchable. With Lucas as her guide, Ella goes to great lengths to wreak vengeance upon Addison, in a mission that takes the pair from Switzerland to France to the United Kingdom.

The Hunter’s Prayer is based on Kevin Wignall’s novel For the Dogs. The film was shot from late 2014 to early 2015, and appears to have sat on the shelf for a while. We’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but it’s hard to look at the poster featuring Worthington and Rush looking serious in front of a rack of guns and not think “generic action thriller”. That same poster calls Jonathan Mostow, who helmed Terminator 3 and Surrogates, a “visionary director”, which is cause for stifling laughter.

Mostow adopts dreary post-Bourne spy movie sensibilities in telling what amounts to your typical hitman-with-a-heart-of-gold tale. The Hunter’s Prayer was shot in Hungary and England, but the European locations are deliberately deprived of substantial glamour, so this doesn’t come off as a scenic James Bond-style travelogue. The action sequences are nothing to write home about, with a cliffside car chase early in the film generating the most excitement.

The adjective “bland” is often used to describe Worthington, who seemed poised for superstardom after Avatar, but then James Cameron took too long in prepping the sequel. To his credit, Worthington takes the role of Lucas quite seriously, and musters up as much intensity as he can playing the tortured hitman. While Lucas is deadly and efficient, he is also shackled by a crippling drug addiction. Much as Worthington tries, the character is too bound by genre clichés to be distinct, or for the audience to care too much about him.

There’s a legacy of action films in which young girls play the lead or co-lead, including The Professional, Kick-Ass, Hanna and recently Logan. Rush won the role after the initially-cast Hailee Steinfeld dropped out due to scheduling issues. The Hunter’s Prayer is meant to be grounded, so Ella doesn’t possess any wild combat proficiency. She’s spoiled and sheltered, but is sympathetic because she’s been neglected by her father and packed off to boarding school. The trajectory of the bond that forms between Ella and Lucas is predictable, and while Rush isn’t outright annoying in the role, Ella should be easier to root for than she is.

Leech’s Addison is the typical corporate creep villain, a wealthy tycoon who delegates the dirty work to his minions. Leech does have some fun with the role and indulges in a spot of moustache-twirling, but like most everything about The Hunter’s Prayer, he just doesn’t stand out. There’s a hint of intrigue in the severe way in which Addison treats his son, but that isn’t sufficiently explored. Compston, whose Metzger is supposed to be an utterly scary henchman, isn’t as intimidating as he needs to be. Landecker’s crooked FBI agent is meant to add a layer of intrigue to the proceedings, but not enough is done with her insidiousness.

The Hunter’s Prayer has a little more polish than your run-of-the-mill straight-to-DVD action flick, but it’s an almost completely joyless enterprise. Whether it’s the bottled-up emotions, the inner conflict, the child who is ripped from their innocent existence or the car chases and shootouts, anything you’ll see in The Hunter’s Prayer has been done considerably better elsewhere.

Summary: Sam Worthington takes his role more seriously than he must, but that doesn’t help The Hunter’s Prayer rise out of the straight-to-video action flick doldrums.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Unlocked

For F*** Magazine

UNLOCKED 

Director : Michael Apted
Cast : Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Michael Douglas
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 1h 38min
Opens : 4 May 2017
Rating : NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)

Erstwhile Lisbeth Salander Noomi Rapace steps out from behind the computer and into full action heroine mode in this thriller. Rapace plays Alice Racine, one of the CIA’s top interrogators. After failing to extract information from, or ‘unlock’, a suspect in time, dozens lost their lives in a terror attack in Paris four years earlier. Since then, Alice has been laying low. She is called back into action by senior MI5 operative Emily Knowles (Collette) and the CIA’s head of European operations Bob Hunter (Malkovich). After a CIA agent is killed in London, Alice is tasked with foiling an act of bioterrorism that will cripple London. Alice finds that her mentor and former handler Eric Lasch (Douglas) is also in danger. A spanner is thrown into the works in the form of Jack Alcott (Bloom), an enigmatic soldier-turned-thief, with whom Alice must cooperate to untangle the conspiracy and prevent the devastating attack.

Unlocked is directed by veteran English filmmaker Michael Apted, who replaced the initially-hired Mikael Håfström. Apted is best known for the ground-breaking Up series of documentary films, as well as the 1999 Bond movie The World is Not Enough. Unlocked is a markedly less flashy, less ludicrous espionage thriller than Pierce Brosnan’s penultimate 007 outing was. That’s not to say it’s very good. Anyone who’s watched a few episodes of 24 will have an idea of what to expect from this competently executed but profoundly generic and somewhat dull action movie.

As if to compensate for doing nothing new, screenwriter Peter O’Brien throws multiple twists at the viewer, but these generate plot holes instead of excitement. Unlocked also falls back on what has now become a cliché – religious extremism as a red herring. We’re supposed to assume that Islamic radicals are the villains, when there are obviously shadowy forces at work merely making it appear that way. A scene in which an Imam explains why he would never incite violence is written and performed well enough, though.

Rather like last year’s Criminal, Unlocked is a run-of-the-mill action thriller which has wrangled a top-shelf cast. Rapace makes for a fine action heroine, even if her back-story (rough childhood, problems with authority, haunted by a past failing) is typical stuff.

There isn’t nearly as much of Bloom in this as the poster implies. While his turn as a roguish rough-and-tumble type sporting scraggly hair, tattoos and an earring has its entertaining moments, it’s clear that Bloom is better suited to playing clean-cut characters.

As expected, not too much is asked of the prolific supporting cast. Malkovich’s Bob Hunter is pragmatic but prickly, and Collette is reprising the Judi Dench-lite performance she gave in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, albeit less exaggerated. Unlocked’s best scene is when Malkovich and Collette are yelling at each other over Skype. Then there’s Douglas in the largely thankless mentor role.

Stunt coordinator and second unit director Greg Powell, who has worked on the Bourne and Harry Potter series and several James Bond films, puts together fight scenes that look fine, but aren’t particularly impactful. Unlocked looks slick and its cast is packed with talent, but it’s clear that nobody’s heart was really in this. Unlocked isn’t a travesty, it’s just the kind of action movie that comes and goes without anyone really noticing.

Summary: A top-flight cast is mostly wasted in an action thriller made with competence but without passion.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong