MOVIE REVIEW: Hemsworth’s thriller all action but no heart

LOOKING for something new to watch this weekend? Check out Chris Hemsworth's new thriller and sweet kids' romp The Willoughbys.



Two stars

Director: Sam Hargrave

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Rudhraskh Jaiswal, David Harbour

Rating: MA15+

Running time: 117 minutes

Verdict: A brutally pedestrian thriller


Painful, bloody, humourless .... this unfortunately titled action thriller is about as appealing as having a tooth pulled.

Chris Hemsworth might well have acted as a kind of human anaesthetic had he not been divested of one of his greatest strengths - his self-deprecating wit. As it stands, his anti-hero Tyler Rake, a black-market mercenary with nothing left to lose, feels a bit like Thor without his magic hammer.

Think just-a-little-bit Mad Max or a toxic version of Crocodile Dundee (there's a nod to Paul Hogan's quintessential Ocker in the gratuitous Top End sequence that introduces Hemsworth's character.)

Chris Hemsworth in a scene from Extraction, Picture: Jasin Boland
Chris Hemsworth in a scene from Extraction, Picture: Jasin Boland

Adapted from the graphic novel Ciudad by producer/screenwriter Joe Russo, who with his brother Anthony directed the last two Avengers films, Netflix's latest "tentpole" release has an impressive pedigree.

Nobody is going to challenge the action credentials of first-time director Sam Hargrave, stunt co-ordinator on a bunch of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and second unit director on Endgame. But in contrast to the nimbleness and dexterity of the aforementioned projects, Extraction is basically one hard slog.

Russo's screenplay transplants the action from Latin America to Bangladesh's crowded capital, Dhaka. In so doing, it loses much of the social commentary of Ande Parks and Fernando Leon Gonzale's comic, set in the Paraguayan city of Ciudad del Este, which borders Brazil and Argentina.

Perhaps to further distinguish Extraction from its forebears, such as the 2004 Denzel Washington film Man On Fire, the gender of their kidnap victim has also been swapped.

Extraction opens with the brutal abduction of the son of an imprisoned Indian crime lord by his ruthless Bangladeshi rival, Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli).

Chris Hemsworth and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in a scene from Extraction. Picture: Jasin Boland
Chris Hemsworth and Rudhraksh Jaiswal in a scene from Extraction. Picture: Jasin Boland

The filmmakers swiftly orientate us to the lawlessness of the world we find ourselves in by having a uniformed police officer shoot one of Ovi's (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) classmates in the head, even though he poses absolutely no threat.

The corrupt cop's actions are echoed in a later scene in which Amir makes an example of a young street kid by having him thrown off the top of a skyscraper.

Haunted by the loss of his own son, Rake is the only hired gun desperate enough to take on the "messed up" job of snatching Ovi from Asif and his underworld army, which has most of the country's official law enforcement officers on its payroll.

Dodging bullets, grenades, satellite tracking systems and rocket-propelled projectiles, man and boy bond on the run. You know the drill.

But the action is so furious and the body toll mounts so quickly, there's not much time for backstories or character development.

And because of that, the character's redemptive sacrifice rings a little bit hollow.

Hargrave and Hemsworth get the job done. But there's not much finesse.

And the results aren't very pretty.

Now screening on Netflix



Two and a half stars

Director: Kris Pearn

Starring: Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Alessia Cara

Rating: PG

Running time: 92 minutes

Verdict: A sweet, family adventure

"EACH unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Ricky Gervais' shrewd blue tabby Cat introduces The Willoughbys by way of the oft-quoted opening line from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, or an approximation thereof.

In so doing, his feline narrator sets the scene for an eccentric animated adventure in which four neglected children come up with a crafty plan to send their sensationally-absorbed parents on a globe-hopping vacation from which they are unlikely to return.

Tim (Will Forte), the sensible and subservient eldest Willoughby child, does what he can to protect his younger siblings. But his plucky sister Jane (Canadian singer-songwriter Alessia Cara) is quite a handful. And their deliciously creepy twin brothers, who are both named Barnaby (Sean Cullen), tend to follow her lead.

The Willoughbys get more than they bargained for when they send their parents on a globe-trotting adventure.
The Willoughbys get more than they bargained for when they send their parents on a globe-trotting adventure.

Tired of spending his nights in the coal cellar, and surviving on his parents' scraps, Tim is eventually persuaded that he and his siblings would be better off on their own.

But the enterprising youngsters get more than they bargained for when their parents hire a nanny (Maya Rudolph) to take care of them, or more accurately, the house, after they set off for parts unknown. An offbeat, amateur Mary Poppins, she quickly wins over the younger Willoughbys. But Tim proves a much tougher nut to crack.

There's a bizarre subplot involving an infant who is left on the family's doorstep in the middle of the night. The children successfully find a home for the hyperactive foundling with an outlandish, Wizard of Oz-like candy factory owner (Terry Crews), who against the odds, turns out to be benign. Further complicating their plans is the angular army of imperious orphan catchers that Tim unwittingly unleashes upon himself and his siblings.

The pointy-nosed Willoughby children have an old-school charm.

Tim's pudding bowl hair cut is nicely off-set by the Barnabys' peanut-shaped bouffants. Jane's tendency to burst into song is judiciously applied - seldom has a musical theatre performer been so restrained.

The textured, homespun quality of the animation is artfully appealing and there are some nice lines of dialogue. But despite The Willoughbys' irrepressible energy, the film doesn't quite add up to the sum of its parts. Perhaps because many of them are borrowed rather than stolen.

A sweet and mildly diverting adaptation of Lois Lowry's book.

Now screening on Netflix


Ben Affleck in a scene from The Way Back.
Ben Affleck in a scene from The Way Back.




Four stars

108 minutes (M)

Ben Affleck knows a thing or two about spectacular falls from grace. Presumably, that's why it feels as though he has so much skin in this performance. The two-time Oscar-winner dials right back on the star wattage for The Way Back, a beautifully observed study of a once-promising basketball player now living off the fumes of his teenage glory.

Jack Cunningham is roused from his alcoholic stupor by a phone call from the headmaster of his Catholic alma mater. The coach of their uncompetitive basketball team has just had a heart attack and the priest is hoping Cunningham will take over.

Initially reluctant, the broken man eventually steps up, transforming the rag-tag bunch of players and vice versa.

All the familiar plot points are there. But like a jazz musician's reinterpretation of a standard tune, The Way Back puts its emphasis on unexpected beats.

Available for purchase on digital download

Originally published as Hemsworth's thriller all action but no heart