Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Action flicks used to bite, with a genuine sense of danger to the stunts and choreography, rare is it now to see an adrenaline pumping movie with practical effects and an acute sense of wonder at their own proceedings. Gunpowder Milkshake falls somewhere in between the obsessive world building of the John Wick series and the comic violence of an Edgar Wright vehicle. In this respect it’s occasionally inspired, having great deals of fun with the impressive action sequences, dashes of effective physical humor and obviously imbued with a cheeky smile knowing that these films are usually populated with exclusively men. While it may be refreshing to see five or six ladies kick the collective ass of a group of gangsters, the film’s generic and convenient plot does little to distinguish this film from anything else within this particular category of action movie.
The film begins with establishing the mother-daughter bond at the crux of this narrative. Sam (Freya Allen) has a hitman mother, Scarlet (Lena Heady), who is in murky waters as an unnamed force is intent on seeing her dead. The movie then jumps ahead several years and Sam (Karen Gillian) is one of the top assassins in the world, however, her last big job turned chaotic and she is now faced with a similarly perilous situation as her mother, made all the more complicated by Emily (Chloe Coleman), the young daughter of Sam’s latest job gone wrong. This plot in and of itself is pulpy and fun, however, it’s injected with about one too many tropes to sustain itself; if there’s never another hitman/spy film about a botched operation in which the agency tries to assassinate it’s former employee, we’d all be just fine and likely wouldn’t miss them for even a single moment.
Where this film succeeds is in the neon-drenched action sequences that have all the vivid hues of Refn with none of the physicality while retaining the flare and pomp of Wright, though much like the latter there is an absence of intimacy in many of these setpieces. The one scene that shines brighter than the rest of the film takes place in a hospital for hitmen and gangsters where the deranged Dr. Ricky liberally provides a few hitmen on Sam’s trail with laughing gas. At this time he assists them by giving Sam a shot of numbing agent that causes her to slowly lose feeling in her limbs. Though Gillian rarely imbues Sam with the menace necessary to display a lifetime of corporate funded espionage and murder her physical comedy in this scene is wildly impressive and incredibly memorable, only made more so by the thoughtful blocking and staging.
Unfortunately, this is a single great idea wedged into a mediocre film so plain it’s occasionally exhausting, it’s flat edges looking all the duller once the audience has been returned from a peak to a valley. The story moves at a brisk pace which keeps its emotional beats from ever resonating but it does retain the material’s inherent sense of joy in spectacle, the filmmakers are just rushing you towards whatever the next action setpiece they have in mind. While it’s hurried, the film is also fussy, like the screenplay was making sacrifices for the tone, there is a more wickedly humorous and darkly clever, provocative film somewhere within the core of this one but sadly for us this is never made manifest.
Gunpowder Milkshake is not a failure, it’s spectacular and noteworthy in how much it attempts within its runtime, however misguided some of those attempts may be. Though it features a number of shining examples as how to have fun with action, the film is beleaguered by how hard it attempts to sustain that smile in the moment’s in between the action. While it’s never convoluted, that positive is only a result of lacking narrative ambition or earned creativity, the plot feels undercooked in comparison too many films in this genre. As far as flavors go, maybe a bit too much gunpowder, not enough care.