There are two things I won’t do with this review. I won’t list all the flaws in logic, because when it got to be about the 50th thing that didn’t make sense, you realize you have to just turn off your brain and enjoy the fighting. Also, I’m not going to list the 20 movies like Atomic Blonde, Taken, and John Wick, that this is similar to. Every critic will mention John Wick, and it makes sense, because this was co-written by Derek Kolstad, the co-creator of the Wick series. It’s like he got together with some people and said, “Well, Matt Damon seemed like a regular guy with great fighting skills in the Bourne series. Keanu kicked butt in Wick, and Liam Neeson has been doing it for 20 years as an old dude. So, let’s get the Better Call Saul guy, make him a schlubby guy in a mid-life crisis, who goes all Charles Bronson on everyone?”
And that’s fine. None of us would object to watching Bob Odenkirk for an hour and a half. That doesn’t mean you can’t write a decent script, though.
The director (and co-writer) is Ilya Naishuller, who did the surprisingly fun Hardcore Harry. It was a series of fun stunts and fights, that was filmed with all GoPro cameras. He’s got a bigger budget, and I have to admit, the fight scenes are a blast. I loved every one of them. But I’m not a 12-year-old that can sit and play video games for hours on end. Give me a good story, damn it! The story here is told to us in the intro, in a montage that shows the repetition of his humdrum life. He makes coffee, watches the kids eat breakfast, does pull-ups at the bus stop, takes a bus to work (which my wife and I couldn’t figure out), jogs, clocks in to work, goes home, gets into bed, where his wife has made a wall of pillows so…I don’t know. Maybe this is a MyPillow product placement, or…she’s afraid he might reach a hand over and grab her butt. I’m not sure. Instead, he sadly looks over to her side, and lays down. After two weeks of us seeing the exact same scene repeated, his house is burglarized. What happens during the burglary is the first of many things that doesn’t make sense (he lets them go). When he goes to hunt them down, that doesn’t make sense. He goes into various tattoo parlors, since he saw the ink on the gunman’s wrist. Uh, maybe that would work in 1960, when you didn’t have tattoos unless you were a prisoner or in the military. And why would a tattoo place even know the address of the person that got said tattoo? Oh wait, I said I wouldn’t bring up all the flaws. Okay, I’ll try to refrain from that.
When he beats up a bunch of drunken Russian goons who were harassing a young girl on a bus …you are so exhilarated by the choreography, editing, camera angles, and even the fact that he takes a lot of punches. In a lot of movies, you wonder why the group of guys doesn’t just bum rush the guy all at once. In this, they do. And they get their licks in.
It’s strange because I thought Eli Roth’s remake of Death Wish (Bruce Willis) was kind of fun, for what it was. Yet it got horrible reviews. The early reviews for this movie have been great, and my wife and I are perplexed by that.
One of the problems with this movie is it doesn’t have many humorous moments, and the jokes they go for, don’t work. In the beginning, that’s Hutch Mansell (yes, that’s his dopey name; my wife wondered if perhaps he was in the witness protection program partly because of that), who keeps missing trash day, and has to wave his hands wildly as the garbage collector drives off, and he’s running with the trash cans down to the curb. When we end up getting the backstory on why he’s living this suburban nightmare of a life, it’s…really odd.
His wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) is a realtor, but we find out she knows about his past. Yet once Hutch starts kicking butt on the bad guys, he becomes a bit more alive (this was done so brilliantly in the underrated M. Night movie Unbreakable, also with Bruce Willis).
Hutch still doesn’t have the respect of his son Blake (Gage Munroe), because of how wimpy he was handling the burglars (especially when the teenager showed he was ready to fight).
The young daughter (Paisley Cadorath) is cute, who is a bit bummed her bunny bracelet has been stolen.
Oh, there’s also an obnoxious neighbor (a Rob Riggle type), who has a loud ‘72 Charger he’s revving. He knocks Hutch for being a wimp during the robbery (as do the cops, who of course, would never say such things). He got the car from the recent death of his dad, which doesn’t bother him in the least. He just peels out of there, bragging that he’s going to see how quick it can go from 0 to 60, while rocking out to Pat Benetar. Oy. This is the kind of writing you’re getting here, folks.
I would have welcomed seeing Christopher Lloyd, who I loved in Taxi (still the best sitcom ever made), and Back to the Future. Now that he’s older and has no hair, he reminds you more of his character in Cuckoo’s Nest.
The father seems a bit bored of his nursing home facility, so…who knows. Maybe he’ll get involved in the shenanigans a bit later in the movie.
So, remember those Russians on the bus? One of them was the son of the biggest Russian mobster in town, Yulian Kuznetsov (Aleksei Serebryakov). So…now they’re after Hutch. He also lost his work badge, so it’s only a matter of time before they track him down.
The movie sometimes has some serious things they want to impart to us. When Hutch doesn’t beat up a few small time thieves, because he realizes their plight…he instead punches a brick wall 10 times (not sure how that didn’t break his hands, which he uses to dispatch folks a few minutes later on a bus). The whole film borders on parody, but it really is taking itself too seriously. And that’s a problem. Even with Hutch occasionally throwing out a one-liner in a deadpan manner. It needed a lot more of those catchy lines. Instead it goes for this too cool for school vibe, so…Hutch has the bad guys lined up on a couch (most of them are dead), and he plays some jazz off an elaborate vinyl collection he has behind him, lecturing them, as he swigs from a flask, before lighting the place ablaze. We watch the flames on the record as it spins around the turntable.
Pawel Pogorzelski gives us great cinematography, with interesting camera angles. There’s also terrific editing by Evan Schiff and William Yeh.
The movie also gets some credit for the wonderful songs used: Gerry and the Pacemakers, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Shirley & Lee, and brilliantly starting and ending with an interrogation scene, and playing the Nina Simone song Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood —
Sometimes, I get a little mad/Don’t you know, no one alive can always be an angel
When things go wrong, I seem to go bad
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.
2 stars out of 5, and it’s playing at most AMC and Reading Cinemas, and the Angelika.