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UNLOCKED (2017) review

August 31, 2017

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written by: Peter O’Brien
produced by: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Georgina Townsley, Erik Howsam & Claudia Bluemhuber
directed by: Michael Apted
rated: R (for violence and language)
runtime: 98 min.
U.S. release date: September 1, 2017

 

The influence of the “Bourne” movies and the television series “24” have become prevalent in our consumption of movies and television series that revolve around government agents or spies and the terrorists they pursue, making it somewhat of a challenge to come up with anything new or different. Unless the tone is wholly original, it’s become apparent that it’s really hard to steer clear of the kind of formula we’re used to seeing. Such is the case with “Unlocked”, the latest spy thriller from veteran director Michael Apted, who has some experience in this genre having helmed “The World is Not Enough” an eighteen-year-old 007 entry. “Unlocked” is a movie that can’t seem to maintain any interest, despite the impressive acting pedigrees of its cast. Despite a couple solid performances, the convoluted story and confusing characters fail to leave any lasting mark.

Screenwriter Peter O’Brien makes his feature film writing debut after writing HALO video games for Microsoft. His story (which was considered “most liked” in the assortment of unmade screenplays in the 2008 Blacklist) is primarily set in modern-day London, but we do get a little backstory on our main character, Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace), a former CIA interrogator. Years ago, she was involved in cracking down on a terrorist hit in Paris that ended up a disaster with multiple civilian deaths. Of course, in typical fashion, Alice is haunted by that event and has spent the years since laying low at a desk job.

 

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Since “something” has to pull her back in (or as they say here “unlock”), the story shifts to CIA head Bob Hunter (John Malkovich, typicaly short-tempered) surrounded by lackeys in a situation room as they monitor surfacing activity of a top Muslim community leader that’s attempting to reach out to a character named, Mercer  (Michael Epp), a known terrorist. When a courier allegedly connected to Mercer is captured by the MI5, Alice’s specific skill set is needed, so she’s reluctantly pulled in by Agent Knowles (Toni Collette) to extract information out of the captive.

After seeking assistance from her old mentor, Eric Lasch (Michael Douglas), it suddenly becomes clear that the interrogation she was expecting was a set-up orchestrated by an unknown source with information linked to the CIA.  Before she knows it, Alice is on the run, scrambling to determine who she can trust. While struggling to get to details on Mercer’s plans to release a deadly virus, Alice aligns herself with Amjad (Tosin Cole) an eager Muslim-speaking rookie and a Jack (Orlando Bloom, dull and unconvincing), a brash ex-Marine who conveniently offers his services.

At least I think that’s how the story goes down, because as I mentioned, it gets a little convoluted, to the point where I gave up trying to figure out who’s who and what they’re trying to do. For the most part, the characters and the actors playing them we’re enough entertainment for me, but I couldn’t help but think how this could be so much more engaging then what it actually is, especially with this cast.

 

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While I may not have seen everything she’s done since breaking on to the scene as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” trilogy (sorry Rooney Mara), I definitely find Rapace quite the draw of any movie she’s in. I find her to be wonderfully talented with an absorbing focus to her performances that draws viewers in effortlessly. I liked her work as Alice Racine, but the character is definitely one that comes across as somewhat unexplored. Granted, she’s on the go for the majority of “Unlocked”, I couldn’t help but wonder more about who she is and what was involved in her past. It’s a great role for Rapace, who can be just as intense during the silent moments as she is in the action sequences. She certainly carries the movie (although she can’t save it), whereas veterans like Douglas and Malkovich pretty much play stock variations on characters they’re played before.

Apted is a director I’ve generally liked, having made movies like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Gorillas in the Mist” as well as movies I’ll defend like “Continental Divide” and “Class Action”, but he’s been absent from the big-screen since 2012’s “Chasing Mavericks”, a surfing biopic he took over while Curtis Hanson was recovering from heart surgery.  Apted, whose made a name for himself in his career as something of a journeyman, has also made some important documentaries as well, but he’s lately spent time directing episodes of “Master of Sex” on the small screen. “Unlocked” isn’t showing a new side to Apted, in fact, the approach taken isn’t anything all that unique and it doesn’t help that most of the movie involves staring at screens, checking phone or characters waiting for something to happen. I understand that’s all part of the story, but there’s nothing exciting about anything that for the viewer to endure.

However, what brings down the film is O’Brien’s screenplay. While it’s fun to see the hoops he has Rapace jumping through, the twists in the film are hardly clever and rarely every unpredictable. It also doesn’t help that the antagonist of the story is never clearly (or fully) realized. It’s hard to pinpoint what or where the discernible threat is and that’s never a good sign.

 

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The ads for “Unlocked” promote “from the producer of “Salt” and “Red”, which eludes to prolific American producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, whose had his hands in many a big-budget blockbuster (some “Transformers” and “G.I. JOE” movies) as well as some real stinkers too (such as this month’s “Kidnap”). I highly doubt “from the producer” has every pulled viewers in that were otherwise indecisive as to whether or not they should see a movie, but for all I know there could be a di Bonaventura following out there that I’m unaware of. Still, if that’s the only selling point of the movie, it seems like a desperate gesture.

One thing I kept thinking about while watching “Unlocked” is how there are so many movies like this nowadays. Peruse Netflix or Hulu or VOD and you’ll know what I mean – the only difference is most of those lean moe heavily on the action element.  Sure, Rapace works hard here, but everyone else (minus Colette) seems to be on autopilot here and it becomes more and more obvious as the movie unfolds.

“Unlocked” is another one of those movies that finds a solid cast middling their way through mediocre material. But hey, there is a scene with a heavy-artillery blasting Toni Collette sporting an awesome Annie Lennox lid, that perked my attention. I couldn’t help but imagine an action flick with Collette as that character with that look, scored completely by The Eurythmics or Lennox. Think about it, bullets whizzing around her as she methodically takes out her pursuers while “Love is a Stranger” plays – yeah, that would be awesome!

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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