With “The Gray Man,” Anthony and Joe Russo have accomplished something extraordinary.
The “Avengers: Endgame” directors have taken a cast of wildly appealing Hollywood A-listers — Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Regé-Jean Page from “Bridgerton” — and made them all dull afterthoughts.
Running time: 122 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of violence and strong language). On Netflix.
It’s a truly amazing feat. You simply cannot believe you’re staring at megastars — so sapped of individuality and charisma they are.
My barista could have been cast as the lead of this action-thriller, and the film would be absolutely no different.
Yet Netflix dropped a whopping $200 million ($50 million shy of the budget for “No Time To Die”) on the visually grand adaptation of Mark Greaney’s spy novels in hopes that it kicks off a popular movie series along the lines of James Bond, “The Bourne Identity,” “Mission: Impossible” and “John Wick.”
Best of luck! That’s an awfully tall order when your film doesn’t have a strong main character.
James Bond is King Lear next to Sierra Six — played by a cold and demure Gosling — an imprisoned murderer who has his sentence commuted in exchange for becoming a trained underground killer for the CIA. He carries out secret unsavory missions for the government.
When Six is lured into the gig by his handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton), he’s told, “You’ll exist in the gray.”
Six replies: “Disposable?”
Skip ahead 18 years. After a questionable new handler (Page) instructs him to kill another agent, Sierra Four, Six discovers his own life is also in danger from the CIA and goes on the run — with damaging intel in tow.
He’s doggedly pursued around the world by an agent-turned-mercenary named Lloyd Hansen (Evans, choosing nondescript wackiness) and joined for a bit by another wax figure called Dani (Armas doing her best Mrs. Cellophane).
Six also needs to rescue Fitzroy’s young niece, who has been kidnapped by Hansen.
The actors, while uniformly bland, are not entirely at fault for their characters’ shortcomings and the overly familiar guy-goes-rogue plot.
That would be writers Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Their story is typical, perfunctory spy-thrilled Mad Libs. And they have everybody speak in annoying secret-agent government lingo that’s neither creatively stylized nor believable — like a judge yelling “order in the court!” while angrily banging a gavel. Take a drink every time someone says “asset.”
Further, the writers deny their characters any development, richness or, really, emotion. A high-speed roller coaster of explosions with no time for anyone to process anything would be OK if “Gray Man” was a lot of fun, but it’s merely a ho-hum travelogue with unremarkable fight scenes.
We’re whisked to Bangkok, Vienna, Berlin and more. Endless bullets are shot; punches are thrown. The viewer, meanwhile, longs for Keanu Reeves as John Wick to roll in and kill a dude with a library book. Give us some panache, please.
The personality of “Gray Man” is contained entirely in its visuals that, in a surely purposeful departure from the title, are boldly colorful. An early sequence in Thailand is doused in purples, reds, blues and yellows and is a pleasure to take in.
This style-substance disparity has become a recurring issue for the Russos’ post-Marvel career: Eye-popping splendor paired with a foul script.
The brothers are talented, no doubt about it, but they have yet to prove they can make a good movie without Thanos and Tony Stark.
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