TL;DR – This is a film that does not know what it wants to be, and ends up just being a mess
Score – 2 out of 5 stars
When I walked into this film I knew nothing other than the title and the two leads, so I was interested to see something completely without any pre-held notions. Unfortunately, honestly, I think if I had found out more before I went, I probably would have given this a miss.
The basic plot of this film is that Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) is a stoner who lives with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) and who can’t leave the town because of panic attacks. One day Mike life gets turned around when he gets visited by the mysterious Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) who activates secret CIA programming in his head so he can fight a hit squad sent after him by Adrian Yates (Topher Grace), yes the premise of the film is that pedestrian.
Unfortunately this movie has a big problem, it just does not know what kind of film it wants to be, it is an action flick?, is it a comedy?, is it a rom-com?, is it a stoner film?, is it a shoot-em-up?, is it a critique of the CIA?, is it an origin story? This means that the film can never settle on a consistent tone, and in fact, the tone can change sometimes so quickly it can be like whiplash.
There is a list of things that just don’t work and while some of them are small gripes, they build up over the course of the film. The prosthetics (lost teeth) and the later make-up just looked fake, like I feel sorry for Walton Goggins (Laughter) because he is trying to do his best, but they have got him acting out of what looks like a bargain bin Halloween costume. Kristen Stewart’s turn half way through makes no sense and feels forced just to give her something to do for the rest of the film other than being the damsel in distress, though she just ends up being the damsel in distress. Poor John Leguizamo (Rose), firstly you are named Rose because the writer wanted a 30 second bit of the film where they want the audience to think Mike is cheating on Phoebe only for a surprise, it’s a dude but also your talent is just wasted in this film. Frustratingly, things only happen because of “plot”, at one point Mike is arrested and instead of the CIA going in there and saying to the police “He’s a terrorist we’re taking him under the Patriot Act” the end, they instead go in and shot up the police station killing all the cops, like why it makes no sense what so ever. Also, the film can’t decide if it wants to be ultra-violent (à la Kick-Ass) or get that lucrative PG rating and because of that, the action is really weak.
The whole CIA side of this film is just a mess, like are they the comic relief or are they the big bad guys (once again the tone). On one hand, this film is seemingly trying to critique the role of the CIA and how they are just willing to kill anyone, including innocent civilians, that get in their way, and then they have them bumbling around like they are the Nazi’s prison guards from Hogan’s Heroes. Also why they are trying to kill Mike is stupid, the cavalier use of a predator drone on US soil is moronic, the film’s title is clearly trying to allude to the real life MKUltra program but without the finesse to actually be a critique of it, and maidenly the ending resolution just makes no damned sense.
There are a few interesting scenes in the film, you don’t see things being filmed under black lights/ultraviolent very often outside of CSI so that was interesting, some of the ‘humorous’ moments were amusing, and some of the action beats were good. From watching this, it feels like this is the first draft of a script that someone submitted to their Intro to Film Writing course at university and for some inexplicable reason they gave it a budget, hired reasonably good actors, spent millions of dollars, but nothing can save it from the fact that it just does not work
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Nima Nourizadeh
Written by – Max Landis
Starring – Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Topher Grace, Topher Grace, Walton Goggins, John Leguizamo, Tony Hale & Bill Pullman
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Ireland: 16; NZ: TBC (R16); UK: 15; USA: R