Monday, September 4, 2017

In Theaters/On VOD: UNLOCKED (2017)

(US/Switzerland/UK - 2017)

Directed by Michael Apted. Written by Peter O'Brien. Cast: Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Toni Collette, Matthew Marsh, Makram J. Khoury, Brian Caspe, Philip Brodie, Michael Epp, Ayman Hamdouchi, Tosin Cole, Raffello Degruttola. (R, 98 mins)

There's a few moments of inspiration for an overqualified cast in this mostly generic terrorism/spy thriller that's been gathering dust on a shelf since it was shot back in late 2014. It was in development long before that, as Peter O'Brien's script was kicking around Hollywood as far back as 2008. There's been some updates to the story, including an overdubbed line by a minor character referencing the 2015 Paris terror attacks, which took place long after the movie was completed. Though its concerns remains topical, UNLOCKED still plays like the kind of hot-button, post-9/11 thriller that would've been more timely in 2007 instead of 2017. Living in London and suffering from PTSD after a 2012 terrorist attack in Paris for which she still blames herself for not preventing, reassigned CIA interrogator Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) is pulled back in when UK-based CIA agents uncover a potential biological terror plot engineered by David Mercer (Michael Epp), a rich kid from Bloomfield Hills, MI who was radicalized by the teachings of ISIS-like extremist Yazid Khaleel (Makram J. Khoury) and now recruits disillusioned teenagers throughout Europe for his cause. One such kid is Lateef (Ayman Hamdouchi), a 19-year-old Afghanistan-born British national and Khaleel courier. Lateef is apprehended by the CIA and when their London-based interrogator is found floating face down in a hotel swimming pool, Alice is ordered back on duty. Things go south when a phone call from an old colleague midway through the interrogation--informing her that she'll be needed to interrogate a 19-year-old British national named Lateef--immediately tips her off that she's been tricked by traitorous agents who have breached CIA security.

Alice manages to escape and meets with her former mentor Eric Lasch (Michael Douglas as more or less the same character he played in Steven Soderbergh's HAYWIRE), who directs her to a safe house and is immediately killed for his trouble by the same crew of CIA impostors. At the safe house, she interrupts what she thinks is a burglar but is really covert ops agent and neck tat enthusiast Jack Alcott (Orlando Bloom), an Iraq War vet now doing dirty work for the CIA in London. It's double and triple crosses and increasingly nonsensical twists and turns from then on, with high-ranking CIA honcho Bob Hunter (John Malkovich) running point from Langley and MI-5 agent Emily Knowles (Toni Collette, looking like a dead ringer for Annie Lennox) working with Alice in London for a race against the clock to stop a bio-terror attack on an American college football game being played at Wembley Stadium in what amounts to a blimp-less version of John Frankenheimer's BLACK SUNDAY. Developments grow more preposterous as the story goes on as UNLOCKED thinks it's got some tricks up its sleeve, but any savvy moviegoer can probably figure out that Michael Douglas wouldn't be hired to play two brief scenes and get killed off 25 minutes in and that maybe--just maybe--he might turn up later in a plot twist that's telegraphed the moment Alice goes to him for help and he immediately excuses himself to another room for a good minute and we don't see what he's doing and then bad guys show up two minutes later.

UNLOCKED was directed by Michael Apted, the incredibly prolific British filmmaker behind the every-seven-years UP series of documentaries that's been going since 1964 (63 UP should be coming in 2019 if he stays on schedule). With a career currently in its sixth decade, the 76-year-old director's magnum opus is certainly the UP series, but he also pays the bills by being the J. Lee Thompson of his generation, dabbling in nearly every genre imaginable, with credits ranging from biopics like COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER and GORILLAS IN THE MIST to '90s thrillers like CLASS ACTION, BLINK and EXTREME MEASURES to Jodie Foster in NELL and Jennifer Lopez in ENOUGH to documentaries like Sting's BRING ON THE NIGHT and the Leonard Peltier chronicle INCIDENT AT OGLALA, and even big-budget franchise fare like the 007 outing THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH and the third CHRONICLES OF NARNIA film. UNLOCKED is Apted's first narrative feature since 2012's CHASING MAVERICKS, for which he shared directing credit after taking over for an ailing Curtis Hanson, and in the meantime, he's been working mostly in TV on shows like RAY DONOVAN, MASTERS OF SEX, and BLOODLINE. He brings a journeyman's sense of efficiency to UNLOCKED by keeping it moving so briskly that you hopefully won't question how needlessly convoluted or cliched it is and just roll with it (yes, Bloom tells Rapace "I'm thinkin' I'm the only friend you've got," and Douglas is heard at one point declaring that he's "getting too old for this shit"). There's a few things worthy of praise--despite the clumsiness of Douglas' reappearance that will surprise absolutely no one, and at least two other characters presumed dead but magically returning later, Apted does play with the audience in a Samuel L. Jackson-in-DEEP BLUE SEA kind of way by suddenly eliminating another major character out of nowhere, and it almost constitutes a twist when that person doesn't turn up again later. Malkovich is basically on hand to Malkovich it up to his heart's content, introduced bitching to his underlings that he's been called into the office on his anniversary and later middle-finger ad-libbing on a Skype chat with Collette's character when she isn't looking (this really does look like something Malkovich came up with and Apted let him run with it). And Rapace continues her string of committed performances after being the only good thing about the sci-fi thriller RUPTURE and playing seven different roles in this entertaining Netflix original WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY.  After the already somewhat forgotten PROMETHEUS (does anyone talk about that anymore?), Rapace has very quietly made her case to be a major female action star, but who knows if anyone's paying attention?

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