REVIEW: Movie so terrible it deserved to bomb
It's rare that you wish a movie's lead would be killed off, just so it could all be over sooner.
Those grim reaper feels are exactly what The Rhythm Section inspires, such is the bewildering plotting and nonsensical characterisation of this so-called action-thriller, mixed in with a restless torpor that threatens to both send you to nap-land and to run laps around your lounge room for something else - anything else - to do.
Starring Blake Lively, Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown, The Rhythm Section had the dubious honour of breaking a box office record in the US when it opened in cinemas there earlier this year - worst opening for a movie playing on more than 3000 screens. Ouch.
US trade publications had The Rhythm Section on track to lose as much as $US30 million given its $US50 million budget.
After that bombing, The Rhythm Section was pulled off the release schedule in Australia, weeks before the coronavirus pandemic delayed everything else. Now, it's arrived on video-on-demand for at-home viewing.
If you're a masochist, or a diehard Lively fan, you may be curious, even tempted, to see what all the terrible fuss is about. Go nuts. But it would be cruel to not warn you first.
Directed by Emmy-winning helmer Reed Morano (The Handmaid's Tale) from a screenplay by Mark Burnell, adapted from his own book, The Rhythm Section is ostensibly a thriller about a woman out to avenge the deaths of her family who were killed on a plane crash.
That's the logline, and maybe if it had been as simple as a John Wick-style revenge story with kickarse, pulsing action sequences, The Rhythm Section could've been watchable.
But no, it tried to do more. Ambition is to be applauded, but clunky, misguided execution should not be.
When we meet Stephanie (Lively), it's three years after the plane crash which killed her parents and her siblings. She's got blotchy skin, a short, choppy haircut and is working as a twitchy, low-rent prostitute with a drug addiction.
When a character says to her, "the drugs, the prostitution, it's not a tragedy, it's a cliché, you're a cliché", it's like the movie is mocking its audience because the real tragedy is its own lack of self-awareness.
When investigative journalist Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) approaches her and tells her that the plane crash wasn't an accident, but a terrorist attack covered up by the government, it's only the first of several plot contrivances that make no sense.
Why would he tell her, this pitiable creature on an accelerated path to a gutter death?
Ditto later on when she turns up to the door of a former MI6 agent (Law) in the remote Scottish Highlands who, after sneering at her, for some miraculous reason decides to train her up as, what, an assassin?
Apparently, all you have to do is declare "I have nothing to lose" and then swim into a freezing lake for a superspy to take you on as a protégé.
From there, the movie globetrots from Madrid to Tangiers to New York to Marseilles, with Stephanie on the heels of the people responsible for her beloved family's deaths. We know they were beloved because Morano and co are at pains to show us through wordless, super-soft-focus, wispy flashbacks of happier times.
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You could give the movie credit for its adequate performances and for not turning its lead into an adept fighter like John Wick or Charlize Theron's character in Atomic Blonde, but that only adds to the incredulousness of Stephanie taking on these shady bad guys who would, realistically, kill her in a second.
So yeah, you find yourself rooting for the death of this character that the film has given you exactly zero reasons to be invested in.
Despite its desire to be in the same genre as the Bourne movies or something like The Equalizer, The Rhythm Section has no momentum, and no amount of gritty, shaky handheld camera work is going to change how flat it is.
When it comes to action movies, absurd, suspend-your-disbelief twists can be forgiven if the movie was exciting and propulsive. But what can't be forgiven, and what is ultimately The Rhythm Section's most egregious sin, is dullness.
When, in the closing moments, a character says to Stephanie, "I hope I never see you again", you pray that will be true.
The Rhythm Section is available for digital purchase from Wednesday, May 6
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Originally published as Movie so terrible it deserved to bomb