Movie Review: Unlocked

Noomi Rapace and Orlando Bloom going through the old Euro-espionage motions.

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Lionsgate premiere

Imagine the melancholy passage this picture has endured in the three years since it was shot: Left to snooze on a high shelf, occasionally pulled down to be poked and prodded by a team of editors in search of a graceful narrative through-line, or at least a few shapely scenes…all in vain. Finally, defeated, the filmmakers gave up and just put the damn thing out. And here it is.

Unlocked is an international-espionage thriller in the very long line of the Bond and Bourne movies, and I hear you stifling a yawn. But this one's different. Because in this one, the international kickass at the center of things is…a woman. That's right. And that might've sounded sort of bold three years ago, but now it's come a little late—Atomic Blonde kicks this movie's butt all over the lot.

It's not just that dragon-tattoo girl Noomi Rapace is about five inches shorter than Charlize Theron—she's about seven inches shorter than Orlando Bloom, the most action-y of her costars here. And so she never seems in any way formidable—a quality that Theron can summon with just a lopsided lift of her lip.

Rapace plays Alice Racine, a CIA agent who screwed up an op in Paris two years earlier and now, spooked (so to speak), works undercover at a London community center counseling amiable ethnic people about employment opportunities. This could happen, I suppose. Then Alice gets a summons from her old CIA boss, Eric Lasch (Michael Douglas), who wants to bring her back into the action. It seems there's an evil Muslim imam who's about to dispatch a young Moroccan courier to somebody-somebody-whatever and there's a nightmare biological weapon in play and Alice's job, once the Company has snatched the courier, will be to pry out of him the recognition phrases he needs to use with the nightmare-biological-weapon connection. This way a new agency-controlled courier can be introduced into the mix and whatever-whatever.

I imagine the insanely convoluted story here might have made some sense three years ago. Well, maybe. It's a first film script by writer Peter O'Brien, who previously labored in the field of Halo video games; but the chaotic narrative might not be his fault – it's the chaotic editing that works hardest to keep us in the dark.

What keeps us snickering, though, is the movie's pure-Hollywood take on Islamic terrorism. The big bad guy here—a man determined to spread a lethal designer virus in the worst possible place—isn't from the Middle East; he's a wealthy young American ("a trust-fund jihadi," someone calls him, as if that were a thing). And the soulless chemist cooking up the virus in an illicit lab? He's Asian. And that evil imam we met at the beginning? Turns out he's actually a guy who dreams only of peace.

I wonder if any of the other name talent here contemplated such silliness before signing on to this picture. Douglas has a role of some plot relevance; but Toni Collette, as a prickly MI5 officer nibbling at the edges of the plot, and John Malkovich, as a CIA chieftain flown over from Langley to hiss and fret from time to time, are basically wasted. Then there's Orlando Bloom's character, Jack Alcott, a burglar whom Alice interrupts practicing his trade in a luxe apartment. You wouldn't think an on-the-run CIA agent like Alice would have much use for a miscreant like Jack—until you learn that he served in the military, so he's good with weapons, and he lost his best friend in the 2005 London tube bombings, so he doesn't much like frickin' terrorists, either. Also he has a neck full of tattoos and a cute little ponytail, and you can imagine how Alice might fall for him. Unfortunately, she doesn't. (This is a movie in desperate need of sexy. And director Michael Apted—who has an actual Bond movie on his resume: the 1999 The World Is Not Enough—seems to have lost interest in this area.)

A wearisome overload of conspiracies and double-crosses piles up —there's a mole, naturally—and as the movie traipses from tense interrogation room to roaring soccer stadium to darkly muddled riverside shootout, you may feel your interest leaking away; and you may feel it petering out entirely after a bluntly unprepared left turn to Prague. There are some adequate action scenes—some shooting, some chasing, the usual. But Rapace isn't the actor to carry this sort of picture. She's too inward, too buttoned up; and the script gives her none of the breezy flair of the various Bonds or the emotional backstory that redeems the grim-lipped Jason Bourne. She's just a woman in a formerly all-male context. And that alone is no longer enough.

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  1. It seems there’s an evil Muslim imam

    i see. islamophobia is OK as long as hollywood gets highly paid for it. its just when yokels start echoing their plotlines that people need scolding.

    1. that evil imam we met at the beginning? Turns out he’s actually a guy who dreams only of peace.

      I so should have read the rest of the review.

      1. {hands GILMORE suicide vest}

  2. “…and he lost his best friend in the 2005 London tube bombings, so he doesn’t much like frickin’ terrorists, either.”

    I can empathize. I once lost my college roommate to an errant laser beam at the shark aquarium.

  3. “who only dreams of peace”

    All tyrants dream of peace.

    What’s more peaceful than a mass grave? No arguments over the remote, no jostling for space, no impromptu investigations to determine “who dealt it”… Totally, 100% peaceful.

    Most tyranny originates from a desire to take all the hustle and bustle of free-wheeling daily life and make it *hold still*…

  4. “She’s just a woman in a formerly all-male context. And that alone is no longer enough”

    Was it ever? And if it ever was, why should it have been? Either an actress can carry an action lead or she cannot. If she cannot, pandering to whatever audience wants to see her try even if she fails is a waste of everybody’s time and money.

    1. pandering to whatever audience wants to see her try even if she fails is a waste of everybody’s time and money

      Replace *her* with *them* and you get the all-female Ghostbusters, and maybe even the all-female Ocean’s 8.

      1. Related to Oceans 8: Set It Off was an all-female heist movie, and it was pretty good, but it didn’t star any white ladies, so it rarely gets mentioned.

      2. I wish we could return to the time when putting a female in the action lead was merely interesting or simply appropriate instead of ‘woke’.

  5. (“a trust-fund jihadi,” someone calls him, as if that were a thing).

    That’s totally a thing, but they’re typically Saudi or from one of the gulf states. Bin Laden himself was, essentially, a trust-fund jihadi.

    1. Huh, I always thought that bin Laden’s career choice had something to do with the Islamic rules of primogeniture. First son inherits his father’s titles and estates, second son gets into the military, third son gets into the clergy, fourth son gets into the exploding Manhattan real estate market.

  6. Wow. Just wow. Hella problematic, Loder. Hella.

  7. Why not just go direct to video, or sell the thing to Netflix or Amazon as an exclusive streaming deal and cut your losses?

  8. Noomi Rapace

    I dunno, it’s got little Miss Cheekbones in it, I’ll definitely catch it on Netflix when it shows up.

  9. She’s just a woman in a formerly all-male context. And that alone is no longer enough.

    Ooooohkayyyy, Loder. 1952 called and it wants its knuckle-dragging sexism back!

  10. Why did you waste your review on this one?

  11. Because in this one, the international kickass at the center of things is?a woman. That’s right. And that might’ve sounded sort of bold three years ago,

    Three years ago?

    Atomic Blond?

    Eh…. Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

    Salt

    Tomb Raider

    Hunger Games…. Or were we only doing specifically spy movies?

    La Femme Nikita

    Prizzi’s Honor was what?…. mid 80’s?

    Oooh…. Ripley from Aliens.

    Sarah Conner from Terminator

    Barb Wire… (OK, we don’t have to count that one)

    That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there’s a ton more. I’d say “female drop-in replacement action hero” has been a trope since the 80’s. Might have been edgy before that.

    1. I was trying to think of really, really old movies that fit the bill and I realized that the two biggest movies of all time – from the 1930’s – had female leads that kicked butt and took names. Maybe not in the macho style of today, but Dorothy from Wizard of Oz wasn’t only a scared little girl, she ended up taking on a magical despot that was terrorizing an entire kingdom and single-handedly took her out, ending her rein of terror and freeing a people of giants that acted as her personal guard. That’s pretty kick-ass.

      Scarlett O’hara started as the wilting flower of femininity and became a kick-butt tycoon when she needed to. Sure, she ends up fawning after her man, but she does it from her estate that she saved all on her own.

      So yeah… maybe the “Hollywood never does tough women” trope is not quite as true as one might think.

    2. Eh…. Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

      Salt

      Tomb Raider

      But enough about Angelina Jolie.

      1. Yeah….. dangers of “off the top of my head”. Once I thought of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the others popped in there.

    3. Catherine Gale, The Avengers, 1961
      and the estimable Emma Peel, The Avengers, 1965.

      Beyond TV & Movies, Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941.

  12. I just smoked a bowl of home grown. Hillary Clinton will never be president !!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlqKFlU7YAs

  13. So, all in all, I take it you didn’t like the movie. You probably could have had your say in one paragraph, but you love to denigrate everything. Pity you wrote this.

  14. It’s not just that dragon-tattoo girl Noomi Rapace is about five inches shorter than Charlize Theron?she’s about seven inches shorter than Orlando Bloom ?

    That must be why nobody liked Buffy the Vampire Slayer: the lead (Gellar) was shorter than anyone else in the regular cast.

    Come on.

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