I have to hope that when Barbara Broccoli (who produced “The Rhythm Section” along with brother and long-time producing partner Michael G Wilson) advised that she didn’t want to make the character of Bond a woman because she believes she ‘should be creating new characters for women – strong female characters’, she had something better in mind than this dreary, gritty-for-gritty’s-sake glacially slow revenge thriller which does its star and most of its cast a grave disservice.
Some years after her family’s death in a plane crash, former promising student Stephanie (Blake Lively) earns her living as a prostitute in London, numbing her pain with drugs until she is approached by a journalist who tells her that the plane crash was not an accident but was, in fact, a terrorist attack covered up the government. The revelation puts Stephanie on a collision course with a disgraced MI6 agent and an international network of terrorists.
There are some echoes 2018 Jennifer Garner vehicle “Peppermint” in that both feature women, pushed to extremes by the loss of their family in violent circumstances but “The Rhythm Section” is a far grittier and grimmer affair as director Reed Morano favours shaky handheld camerawork a decidedly bleak visual style to tell this slow-moving tale.
Unfortunately, the movie falls headfirst into a pit of genre clichés and then proceeds to tick them off with a jarring lack of competence or skill. For three-quarters of its run time, the movie is too slow, grinding its way through a tedious succession of po-faced brooding set pieces and an excruciatingly drawn-out training montage where Jude Law’s mysterious ‘B’ puts her through the old Mr Miyagi routine, if Mr Miyagi had been a viciously sadistic asshole. All of which may have been forgivable if it toughened Stephanie up and some of the experiences paid off later in the movie…but they don’t. The action scenes – sporadic though they are – likewise are so aggravatingly, incoherently shot and edited that you’ll struggle to follow exactly what’s going on, let alone care with the Tangier-set car chase in the middle of the movie ranking as one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a movie.
There has never been an international assassin this desperately incompetent outside of the likes of Johnny English – but there are definitely no laughs to be had here. What there are, are a succession of truly terrible wigs and a breathtakingly contrived ‘turn to competence’ in the final act of the movie which betrays everything that came before it to the point where it almost breaks the movie.
The real tragedy of this movie is that with this, “A Simple Favour” and “The Shallows” in quick succession, Blake Lively has showcased what a tremendously versatile leading actress she is and had she had the benefit of more polished material akin to “Atomic Blonde” to work with, this could have been sensational. She certainly delivers a committed performance and gives everything she can – he late, great Sir Christopher Lee used to say ‘every actor has to make terrible films from time to time, but the trick is never to be terrible in them.’ and that’s a trick that Blake Lively, at least, manages to pull off here – but there’s nothing anyone could have done to bring this hackneyed, tone-deaf Islamic terrorism script – adapted by Mark Burnell from his own novel – to big-screen life.
Revenge is a dish best served cold and this lukewarm offering should be sent back to the kitchen.