MOVIE REVIEW: Gunpowder Milkshake

Director: Navot Papushado

Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Chloe Coleman, Ralph Ineson, Paul Giamatti Genre: Action, neo-noir

Country/Language: USA, Germany, France / English

Duration: 1 hr 54 minutes

Rating: 18+

‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is a new neo-noir action film co-produced by The Picture Company, Canal+, Cine+ and Babelsberg Studios, a group of American, French and German companies. Led by the promising Karen Gillan (‘Oculus’) as the cold-hearted assassin Sam, the cast boasts of strong supporting turns from the reliable Lena Headey (‘Game of Thrones’), Carla Gugino (‘Gerald’s Game’), Angela Bassett (‘Black Panther’) and the immaculate Michelle Yeoh (‘Shang Chi’).

Sam (Gillan) was 12-years old when she was suddenly abandoned by her assassin mother, Scarlett (Headey), at a diner. Sam is left at the hands of Nathan (Giamatti) who become sort of her adoptive father and raises her as a professional killer. Years later, the grown-up Sam is given the assignment to complete. But all goes haywire when she accidentally kills someone and must deal with an abandoned young girl. Does the girl melt Sam’s heart and trigger the cold killer’s memories of childhood abandonment? Or does the kid set off maternal instincts like an alarm in her brain? Well, either way, Sam drastically changes her plans to help the girl which gets her in hot water with the powerful trustees of The Firm.

There is a lot of potentials here for hair-raising action and adrenaline-induced entertainment. And in some ways, the script helps accomplish that. The fight scenes are carefully crafted which can be seen in two major sequences: the Hospital fight scene and the Parking Lot fight scene. The former scene has a lot of humour with one fighter rendered paralyzed from the waist down, while her enemies are no better: they were recently beaten up and are now relying on crutches and wheelchairs. All fighters on opposing sides are at a disadvantage, and it’s just hilarious to see them pathetically combat each other in agonizing pain. The Parking Lot scene is another memorable sequence.

But nothing tops the glamour and drama of the Sisterhood of Assassins. Essayed by veteran actors Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, and Michelle Yeoh, this trio of librarians are expert assassins moonlighting as librarians. Each of them has a weapon of choice and distinguishable personalities, even dressing up in different colours like the Powerpuff Girls. These stars play off of each other in a highly watchable way. Michelle Yeoh especially is a sight to behold: she’s elegant and classy whether reading a book or strangling an opponent with a chain mail.

Now on to the frustrating aspect of this film. All the characters speak quietly in a hushed voice even when yelling (believe it or not). The female characters seem to have an aversion to high-pitched voices like their lives depend on it, choosing to whisper or growl instead. Additionally, the scenes progress oh-so-slowly, dragging on and on. The final showdown in the library takes so long to kick off that it loses traction by the time the heroes step out to fight. Only the fight choreography (and the participation of the Sisterhood of Assassins) save it from drowning. All this makes the film feel frustratingly sanitized and sterile.

When the explosive action does happen, it sounds quiet. As if a silencer has been installed on a gun. So what would have been a roaringly exciting scene and give us chills ends up being simply decent, fun but never giving us the emotional release that we have waited for so long. The jokes suffer from the same treatment: they’re funny but barely laugh-out-loud.

The sets are ravishingly beautiful with abandoned bowling alleys, classical buildings and neon lights. The director is Israeli filmmaker Navot Papushado, a purveyor of indie horror movies like ‘Rabies’ (2010) and ‘Big Bad Wolves’ (2013). We do see traces of horror in this action thriller, such as abundant shadows, neon lighting and gore. There are also hints of an anachronism when the audience gets confused as to what era we are looking at. Is it the 50s and 60s? The 80s? Present times? ‘Gunpowder’ doesn’t feel the need to answer it. It adopts a comic book-type of fantasy world where the accurate reflection of contemporary times takes a back seat and past influences take the steering wheel.

Ultimately, ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is not the worst movie in the hitwoman genre. A recent action film, Netflix’s ‘Kate’, has intriguing similarities to this picture. In both the films, a cold-hearted female assassin befriends the daughter of the man she murdered, and begins to soften…perhaps even considering leaving the profession. But ‘Gunpowder’ is funnier, lighter, and more entertaining.

‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is now playing in theatres.

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