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There’s something appealing about a film that’s got a ton of firepower, but there’s no bombast and no explosions to be found anywhere in the movie. The “Gunpowder” movie does this by spending 90 minutes in a restaurant and a gun store, with all the shooting happening off camera. — The movie stars Vince Vaughn, who wasn’t a stranger to such a film. In the past, Vaughn has starred in movies that involved him checking out a gun store, and eventually getting some guns to use in a film.

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Stop me if you’ve seen this before: a highly skilled assassin working for a shadowy organization is betrayed by their employers and pursued; said assassin becomes emotionally attached to a child and is willing to risk their own life for the child’s safety; said assassin also kills the son of a high-ranking gangster who seeks vengeance.

In Gunpowder Milkshake, you’ll see a lot of classic action movie clichés. In reality, Gunpowder Milkshake’s storyline might be characterized as a jumble of action movie tropes. The big female ensemble in Gunpowder Milkshake sets it apart from other action films, but to be fair, this is much more frequent today than it was in the action heydays of the 1980s and 1990s.

Sam (Karen Gillan) is the assassin in question, a member of The Firm, a mysterious but powerful organization. Nathan (Paul Giamatti), the director of the HR department and a father figure to Sam, is her primary contact. Sam’s previous assignment saw her assassinate the son of a powerful mobster, Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson), who has vowed vengeance. Her identity, however, should be secure as long as she is safeguarded by The Firm.

The accountant who stole a large sum of money from The Firm is Sam’s next target. As she pursues this accountant, she becomes embroiled in an abduction plan involving the accountant’s daughter, Emily (Chloe Coleman). As events unfold, she loses The Firm’s protection and is even recognized by McAlester’s men.

As the two attempt to make it out alive, Sam’s estranged mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), who is also a highly accomplished assassin, comes to their aid (of course). The Sisterhood, a group of three women who operate a weapons armory disguised as a library, takes in the three of them. Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Florence (Michelle Yeoh), and Anna May (Michelle Yeoh) make up the Sisterhood (Angela Bassett). With these women’s combined lethal talent, they may just make it through the night…

It’s not always a terrible thing to be unoriginal. Everything hinges on the execution. Many action films are riddled with clichés, yet they nevertheless manage to stand out – the John Wick series is the most recent example of this. Gunpowder Milkshake has a lot of similarities to the John Wick series, particularly in terms of worldbuilding. Gunpowder Milkshake, like John Wick, alludes to a wider universe, a hidden underworld where thieves and assassins obey strict moral rules.

The underworld of John Wick seems fleshed out, no matter how ludicrous it is. We get a peek of how things work in the real world. Unfortunately, the universe’s suggestion of Gunpowder Milkshake does not seem to be well-considered. Everything is still extremely hazy. We never learn how The Firm works; all we know is that Paul Giamatti’s character receives instructions from mysterious guys dressed in expensive suits.

We are introduced to a tiny hospital operated by a laughing-gas-addicted doctor (played amusingly by Michael Smiley) that seems to cater exclusively to The Firm’s workers. The Sisterhood maintains a massive library where weapons and other items are concealed amid the volumes. We are introduced to an American-style restaurant that seems to serve exclusively the inhabitants of this underworld, where firearms are prohibited — but this restriction does not appear to be enforced in the long term. Nothing seems to fit together. These places seem to exist purely for an action set piece, rather than explaining the world of Gunpowder Milkshake.

That is the major issue with Gunpowder Milkshake. The screenplay is just a collection of action set pieces. If the characters were fascinating enough, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, the picture falls short in this regard as well. However, it is not the fault of the actors. In fact, the picture would not be as enjoyable if it weren’t for the excellent ensemble. Every performer extracts the most benefit from the thin material.

Karen Gillan portrays the stereotypical stoic assassin with a golden heart. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much of a character journey. She ostensibly chooses to save a child’s life because the screenplay directs her to do so. We’ve seen the cliché of a hardened killer rediscovering their humanity in the companionship of a kid before — see Leon or Logan — and when done well, it can make for an emotionally moving action film. In the instance of Gunpowder Milkshake, however, their connection is just on the surface. Their connection does not develop in a normal way.

Even if she has to communicate this with some pretty awkward language, the usually great Lena Headey impresses as the remorseful mother.

Michelle Yeoh’s presence makes you realize how undervalued she is; in fact, she is the most believable in action sequences of all the ladies. Despite having a renowned career in China, she has been mostly underused in Hollywood.

Angela Bassett uses her dominating presence to great effect. You understand, like Yeoh, how underappreciated she is. Gugino is lovely as expected, and the Sisterhood’s most compassionate member. When you see these three warriors together, you want to see a movie about them. The combined charm of these three ladies would be enough to create a good film.

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Ralph Ineson’s deep voice is badly wasted as the primary villain. He’s dangerous enough, but he doesn’t get much work. A few additional moments of him grieving over his son would have helped to flesh out his character. We are given to a speech in his last moment, hinting at something deeper inside his character. But even Ineson’s strong performance isn’t enough to fully flesh out his persona. It’s much too late and far too little.

In terms of action, the film does not disappoint. The excellent visual vision of director Navot Papushado, as well as his penchant for lengthy takes, culminate in some fantastic action sequences. The first one has a lengthy battle scene in a bowling alley lit by neon lights. Despite the fact that Gillan is clearly not a skilled martial artist, she does a fantastic job in this film.

Each of these ladies will get the opportunity to kick some ass. Some people are more talented than others (Yeoh, considering her history in martial arts and action cinema, being the obvious standout). The picture, like most modern action flicks, contains a lot of CGI blood. Squibs are no longer popular. However, given the excellent choreography on show, this is largely excusable.

The film’s most famous and creative scene takes place in a hospital hallway, when Sam, who has lost her limbs, must take down three thugs who are all high on laughing gas. These henchmen are all wrapped up, in a cast, leaning on crutches, and in one instance, in a wheelchair, as they are still recovering after their previous battle with Sam. This results in some creative choreography.

However, owing to the film’s faults, your mind wanders, contemplating the story’s lack of coherence, leading to the discovery of many narrative holes. I realize that the storylines of these films aren’t intended to be analyzed, but it does show how uninteresting the content is. Because I’m so engaged in what’s going on, I don’t find myself questioning the mechanics of John Wick’s world. It’s easy to overlook any amount of narrative flaws if you care about the people.

Gunpowder Milkshake, on the other hand, just lacks any emotional resonance. You find yourself unconcerned with Emily’s survival or Sam’s rekindled connection with her mother. You’re simply waiting for the bullets to start flying across the screen once again.

You could do a lot worse if you simply want to waste some time with some action movie nonsense. Certainly, this is superior to contemporary blockbusters’ fake CGI brilliance. I commend the filmmakers for producing these films, faults and all. Gunpowder Milkshake, on the other hand, was a difficult watch for me. The ability is there; it’s just that the foundation isn’t. This might have been a great boost for female-oriented action film if the screenplay had been stronger.

Let’s hope Netflix takes away at least one valuable lesson from this film: Michelle Yeoh desperately needs a new action movie franchise. Maybe a buddy cop film featuring Angela Bassett and her?

 


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