The Rhythm Section (2020)
The Rhythm Section (2020)

Genre: Spy and Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: January 31st, 2020 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Reed Morano Actors: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Raza Jaffrey, Tawfeek Barhom, Richard Brake, Max Casella

 


 

I

n Tangier, a murder is about to take place. But just as the deed inches towards its zenith, a freeze-frame takes hold, awkwardly segueing to eight months earlier. This marks the umpteenth time that a thriller opts to start in the middle of an action sequence before stopping short and circling back to the beginning. It’s an entirely recognizable formula, and it never fails to inspire groans.

The beginning isn’t even the beginning, really, since it starts in London, already three years after Northeastern Airlines Flight 147 crashed into the Atlantic, killing everyone aboard – including Stephanie Patrick’s (Blake Lively) entire, picture-perfect family. Understandably distraught, but without a clear connection to the total shambles that her life becomes, she turns to drugs and prostitution. But when freelance journalist Keith Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) tracks her down, literally buying time to reveal that the plane crash was actually due to a bomb, she unearths an unlikely moment of clarity (a somewhat absurd 180-degree flip) to ditch the narcotics and the brothel to get to the bottom of the conspiracy and explosive murder of her loved ones.

Excitingly, Lively is so haggard and disheveled that she isn’t immediately recognizable. Her usual glamor and fashion are thoroughly tossed aside in favor of a bruised, beaten, dirty, pitiful woman, devoid of Hollywood makeup and styling. It’s really the first time she’s played a character that feels different from her most famous turn as Serena van der Woodsen on “Gossip Girl.” Not so amusing, however, is her accent, which comes and goes so frequently that it’s easier to pretend it’s merely a part of her eventual alternate identities.

“You’re another victim. You’re just not dead yet.” Rather than having her remain an integral part of an investigation into extremist activities, she soon assumes the role of the lead investigator. She may look like a wreck initially, but it helps that she’s educated and steadfast; once she sets her sights on revenge, it’s not long before she’s molded into a female superspy in the vein of 007. Plus, the angsty, screechy violins cue the assassin thrills as her situation spirals out of control and into the hands of a former MI6 spy-maker (Jude Law).

In actuality, “The Rhythm Section” (a title that is never fully explained) is a derivation of “La Femme Nikita,” with notes of “Leon: The Professional” and even “V for Vendetta” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (and too many to count if male spies are included; “American Assassin” from 2017 is incredibly similar). It’s also disappointingly comparable to “Red Sparrow,” but with only a fraction of the bite. Where that picture went overboard in its ferocity and brutality, “The Rhythm Section” tends to pull punches at every crossroads, hoping to imply severity without fully embracing the violence or adult themes. Additionally, each step of the way toward proving Patrick’s worth as a covert operative is routine; her motivation (“I’m not looking to get healed”), her training, and her exceptionally messy first assignment (one so amateurish it seems as if she underwent no preparation at all) are typical. There’s action, suspense, death, destruction, globe-hopping, wig-donning, unlimited funds (though it’s never as ludicrous as the “Fast and Furious” or “Mission: Impossible” movies), and brief dashes of humor.

Yet when it returns to Tangier to replay bits of the opening sequence, it’s expectedly disappointing; it’s such a bland way to construct a film. Nevertheless, the action scenes are the highlight, with the stunt coordinators and cinematographer attempting to generate uncommon realism through gravity-minded car chases, conservative shootouts, and cramped camerawork (placing viewers in the midst of Stephanie’s life-or-death frenzies). There’s a mystery at work, too, concerning the identity of a terrorist mastermind, but its payoff is limited; there aren’t enough characters in the picture to allow for too many surprises. Plus, Stephanie never achieves a unique identity; as she rotates through aliases, gaining or losing moral purity when a baddie needs slaughtering, she’s avoids being a precise, definable hero. If she’s ultimately only trying for simple revenge against a minimal number of perpetrators, why will audiences want to see her in further adventures (such as additional adaptations of writer Mark Burnell’s book series)?

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10