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TERMINAL (2018) review

May 9, 2018

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written by: Vaughn Stein
produced by: David Barron, Molly Hassell, Arianne Fraser, Margot Robbie, Tom, Ackerley, Josey McNamara, Sophia Kerr & Teun Hilte
directed by: Vaughn Stein
rated: not rated
runtime: 90 min.
U.S. release date: May 11, 201 (AMC Woodridge & VOD/Digital)

 

“Termimal” is proof that no matter how charismatic or appealing a lead actor is, there are times when they just can’t do anything to help the movie they are in, try as they might. Since she made an indelible cinematic entrance in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” back in 2013, Margot Robbie has proven she definitely has such charisma and appeal. Most recently, she’s proven she has some serious acting talent as well, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for “I, Tonya”. Unfortunately, her presence and involvement in (she served as one of the producers) this crime thriller the feature-length debut of writer/director Vaughn Stein, just isn’t enough to make this noir bore stand out in any significant manner. 

In an unrecognizable, anonymous city, lies a seemingly dormant terminal. Void of the bustling energy of departures and arrivals, this location no longer houses locomotives, but a sparse population of random thieves and assassins, doused in noir genre tropes and deep neon. One could be led to believe this location is geographically placed somewhere in Europe (filmed on a Hungarian soundstage, to be specific), since we’ll have heard a variation of accents by the film’s end.

 

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This is where we meet Annie (Robbie), a mysterious blonde with a devious smile, who serves tables with acerbic attitude at an “End of the Line” diner and can also be found prancing on stage at a shadowy club – all supposedly taking place inside this dark and dank location overseen by a hunched-over maintenance man (Mike Myers). For a one-location film, location isn’t exactly one of its strengths and as the story unfolds, it becomes harder and harder to find any at all.

A mysterious Mr. Franklin is watching every character that inhabits the terminal using a panel of monitors. Based on his raspy-voiced announcement to himself, “Let the games begin”, there is an indication that there is a purpose to his surveillance. Alas, we’ll never learn of his proclivity for watching, nor will we fully comprehend why he hires two hitman for a mysterious job. This Mr. Franklin becomes more of an annoyance as the film progresses, rather than the ominous figure the screenplay proposes, especially when he’s involved in an expositional spin cycle during the film’s final fifteen minutes, revealing all for the exhausted viewer.

The two hitman hired are the garden variety types found in every noir handbook. They’re inspired by a promised high paycheck, yet have been given little information about the job. The older fella is the impatient Vincent Iscariot (Dexter Fletcher), a foul-mouthed lout who shouldn’t be trusted and then there’s the impetuous Alfred (Max Irons), who seems to think he can get by on his good looks. It’s never clear what type of reputation these two have as killers, but what becomes quite apparent is how they are contributing to the annoying characters that seem to be increasing. Through Annie’s narration, we learn that she plans to turn these two against each other – the why of it all doesn’t matter in “Terminal” and by the time numerous answers are provided, we’ll need smelling salts to acknowledge them.

 

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While these character circle each other, as confused and lost as viewers of “Terminal” will be, another enters into the picture and sits down at Annie’s diner. He’s a sad-sack former English professor named Bill (Simon Pegg) who has a terminal (heh) illness and is trying to muster the gumption to off himself. Annie seems more than happy to provide suggestions and push him down through this mortal coil. How the film ultimately unravels its twists and supposed secrets is far from clever or original, but at least we get some good back-and-forth between Robbie and Pegg. The two actors revel in the genre and their scenes together offer the only relief from what winds up being nothing more than a dumb genre mashup.

It’s clear Stein is ambitious and passionate about combining a penchant for noir and dark fairytales (a certain Lewis Carroll tale is referenced ad nauseam), but “Terminal” takes too long to get going, not to mention get interesting and the rare times it does, I had already checked out. Stein’s entire story is predictable. In a story like this, no character is coincidental and most likely everyone is connected somehow. A screenplay with more subtlety and character nuance, one that subverts our genre expectations is needed for “Terminal” to become something it clearly wants to be. With his background primarily in assistant director duties on films like World War Z” and the recent iteration of “Taran”, (where Stein probably met Robbie), it probably would’ve been a good idea to get some assistance on the screenplay and focus primarily on directing duties.

We know from “Suicide Squad” that Robbie can play a sociopath with great aplomb and she certainly does what she can to bring life to “Terminal”, but the material isn’t doing her any favors. Granted, the material wasn’t there when she played Harley Quinn in that DC flick, but at least that role is larger than life, quite funny and mostly entertaining. Although she has more gumption than anyone else here, outside of her scenes with Pegg, no one else is help in her attempts at breathing some life into this dank and dour tale.

It’s been almost ten years since we last saw Myers on screen, in his obscure bit part in Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”, so it’s curious to see him here. As for his part in all this, it’s quite something to figure out what he’s doing here. He’s not out of place in a story with such a dark tone, but he does tend to stand out, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. It feels like his makeup and accent is something of a holdover character from his “Austin Powers” movies. I’m sure it was fun for him to add a lot to the small, yet important role, but it comes off as a “hey, there’s Mike Myers playing a character”, instead of disappearing into a character that would be overlooked in real life.

Maybe in its attempt to combine interests and references, “Terminal” could’ve spent more time determining what lies underneath the characters, possibly offering something more for viewers to latch onto, instead of constantly focusing on checking off a list of cliche genre conventions.

 

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RATING: *1/2

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One Comment leave one →
  1. May 9, 2018 7:53 am

    Awesome review!

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