Mucking with Movies: ‘Freelance’ – turn off, tune out, drop in

Jack Simon
Courtesy photo

Nothing was going to stop me from seeing a new John Cena flick.

Not the meme-driven “Five Nights at Freddy’s,” not a rewatch of “Killers of the Flower Moon,” not even the 6-foot cutie who wanted to hang out that night. If that wonder of a man had something new for me to watch, I would sacrifice all to be with him. I had no idea what the movie was about, just John. I hadn’t seen a trailer ad for it pop up on YouTube or a preview come on in the theaters, which is shocking because I’m at the theater a lot. I rarely get that sort of blind cold watch these days, so, excitement all around.

At first, he is lawyer Mason Petit, looking like one in the same way a wolf looks like a dachshund if you just see past a couple things, before getting his call to action to do one last job providing security detail for journalist Claire Wellington (Alison Brie) as she goes to interview previous hermit South American President Juan Venegas (Juan Raba). Even in a military movie, John looks out of place standing next to humans, but he’s so in on that joke that he recontextualizes the scene. His greatest skill is playing an everyman with an overflowing bucket of charm rather than the brick house action man he’s built as.

He and Brie make an intriguing pair; I wish they had gotten a little more to chew on together. They should have been a buddy-cop pairing, and, at times, it seems like the script is going to veer in that direction, but mostly that dichotomy is ignored. Instead, a romance angle is crowbarred between the two of them even though their chemistry radiates a palpable friendship. It becomes rom-com cringe rather than an action-driven vehicle with some good laughs.

When the two are given dialogue to share, it almost always leaps off the screen, even old, retreated bits feel fresh in their hands. Wellington has Petit film her interview with Venegas on her phone, trotting out the classic old brute is befuddled by technology bit, but between the two, it is made positively adorable.

But too often the best lines are given to Venegas. He does a decent job with most of them even though Raba plays the character about 18 degrees less weird than he needs to be. But mostly it detracts from the better story that could have been told. They’re unspooling a damsel in distress yarn in 2023 and rendering Wellington the third most important character when Brie is by far the most accomplished actor and star. At one point, Petit yells at Wellington for filming even though it’s her character’s entire job. Not to virtue signal through the review here, but there were three women total in the whole film: Petit’s daughter (Molly McCann), his wife (Alice Eve) who shows up only in the first and third acts for Petit to project character development onto, and Wellington, the love interest. With a 109-minute runtime and three women total, I just think that’s objectively stupid.

The key here was that the film refused any injection of irony, being as straightforward a film that can be made nowadays. Not attempting a self-aware bend or an uncomfortable campy undertone, it was a throwback to the 2000-era of making a movie for a movie’s sake. Director Pierre Morel never wavered from the job he had to do, delivering this half-baked script to completion with no-frills attached. Not caring to unearth any themes or dig at any greater meaning, it was the purest sense of Hollywood entertainment.

I don’t particularly believe in the “turn your brain off” strain of art. Art is hard; it takes a herculean effort to complete any creative endeavor, let alone one that encompasses tens of millions of dollars ($40 million was the estimated budget) and months from a web of people.

Does it live up to that trust? Certainly not! It made $4 million worldwide opening weekend (woof!). And everybody involved will likely try to forget it ever happened, cash their check then move on to greater success. But dummies like me will still be here cheering on their childhood heroes regardless of the silly career choices they make. I walked in smiling, and I walked out smiling. Sometimes that’s all a movie needs to be. My brain doesn’t turn off for that; it turns on.

Critic Score: 5.1/10


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