SURVIVOR (2015) review
written by: Philip Shelby
produced by: Charles Winkler and Irwin Winkler
directed by: James McTeigue
rating: PG-13 (for violence, some action and brief strong language)
runtime: 96 min.
U.S. release date: May 29, 2015 (limited release) and VOD, iTunes and Amazon
“Survivor” is the type of movie you only hear about it you’re writing about movies. If not, you’ll find it one day while strolling thru VOD, iTunes, Amazon or Netflix – even then you might opt for something else. It’s the kind of movie that’ll show up in one theater in a major metropolitan U.S. city, but that doesn’t matter since most its viewers will be watching it on their television, tablet of choice or phone. It’s a movie that intends to be marketed as a political thriller, hoping on the built-in fan base of two of its actors, but absolutely nothing about “Survivor” is thrilling and its politics, well, range from hazy to bland. This film in its entirety is as confounding and ridiculous as its title (and really has no correlation to the movie whatsoever), which has to be how each viewer feels after watching it.
After a prologue in Kandahar, Afghanistan in which we see a U.S. military chopper get shot out of the sky by indigenous fighters, which we presume foreshadows a connection to the rest of the movie, “Survivor” travels to London. There we meet Kate Abbot (Milla Jovovich), an American Foreign Service Officer who’s recently been appointed a position at the U.S. Embassy overseeing an eager group of wet-behind-the-ears agents and is in charge of examining visa applicants traveling to the States, in search of potential terrorist activity. She does indeed find it odd when a general practice physician, Dr. Emil Balan (Roger Rees) claims he’s on his way to a pediatric convention. Although she smells something fishy, her immediate supervisor, Bill Talbot (Robert Forster), brushes it off, telling her move on with her job.
Well, surprise – she doesn’t. In fact, she goes on to investigate this doctor on her own and gets into hot water with a stuffy British official, Paul Anderson (a super serious James D’Arcy), and the U.S. ambassador, Maureen Crane (an all too brief, Angela Bassett), with only colleague, Sam Taylor (a continuously brooding Dylan McDermott) and technical ears and eyes, Sally (Frances de la Tour), in her corner. She’s going to need as much help as possible since the baddie (Benno Furmann) behind the good doctor has hired a veteran assassin named The Watchman (Pierce Brosnan) – named because we see him tinkering with watches – to take her out. Next thing she knows, Kate is being framed for the murder of her underlings and others, as the movie ridiculously unfolds. It’s not true, of course – Kate didn’t kill anyone (although it would be a welcome twist in a movie as achingly predictable as this) and now she must evade authorities while thwarting an inevitable attempt to bomb in Times Square because: America is Evil. Yawn. Try as one may to stay involved with this movie, it winds up one you check your watch repeatedly (take that Watchmaker) and inevitably becomes a good movie to fold your laundry to. Oh come on, you know you do that.
The screenplay by Philip Shelby (who has written the upcoming Jason Statham sequel “Mechanic: Resurrection”) is so extremely poor in its lack of even an attempt at originality, it literally made me groan out loud a couple of times. The way characters behave in this movie, especially the protagonist played by Jovovich, just doesn’t hold any logic whatsoever. I wound up hoping for a chase scene or a shootout, to break up the scenes of stupid behavior.
After watching such laughable activity, “Survivor” shuffles a card just before the credits, which reinforces what is already obvious – it’s a movie intent on saluting those who battle (or have battled) terrorism. Shelby even tacks on a 9/11 backstory connection for Kate, who bafflingly goes from a laptop sleuth to action heroine with ease – she lost some friends when the Twin Towers went down – that made me want to throw my hands in the air and shout, “of course”. Both the storyline and the dialogue seem right at home in a cheap made-for-cable flick, not the sleek suspense thriller director James McTeigue is trying for.
What the heck happened to McTeigue? This is the guy who worked on “The Matrix” movies and went on to direct “V for Vendetta” – then again he also helmed that limp John Cusack as Edgar Allen Poe movie “Raven”. “Survivor” found me wondering where director James McTeigue has been. Most of the film was shot in Bulgaria, even thought the story doesn’t take place there and there’s really nothing about the locations capture the viewer’s attention. In fact, the 2nd unit work feels like stock footage of pan-and-scan cityscapes, resulting in a cheap and pedestrian feel. Ultimately, “Survivor” serves as a glaring reminder that what is needed, first and foremost, is a good script.
Notice I mentioned a ‘good’ not great, because sometimes a director or talented actors can elevate a good script into something great. Here, Jovovich and Brosnan give it there all (even if Brosnan hams it at times), but they can’t even elevate the movie to ‘good’. That’s right, not even a “Resident Evil” action hero or a Bond alum can save “Survivor”. In fact, the only audience for this movie are those Jovovich and Brosnan completists out there – so, the ones who’ve seen “Cymbeline” and “How to Make Love Like an Englishman”. Now then, I think I’ll go revisit “The November Man”.