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Loud and absurd with tone-deaf characters, 'Gunpowder Milkshake' never quite comes together

Carrying enough action for two films, this one is unfortunately short on story and originality.
Credit: Netflix

ST. LOUIS — Some movies lean on previous formulas in more successful franchises, sprinkling in a few new touches and seeing if the audience can be fooled. Take the setup of "Gunpowder Milkshake" for example. A mother who happens to be an assassin (poor career choice, post child) abandons that child in a diner, only for the little girl to grow up to be just like her mom--and her righteous killing friends. Oh, and she makes the same mistakes that mom did.

The script is the culprit here. Like "No Sudden Move," it has its hands in a few different classic action film cookie jars while trying to generate laughs with its absurdity. If I'm being honest with you, I had little clue what was going on for half of the near-two hour run time. More so, I wondered why or if this all mattered, a check-your-realism-meter at the door action extravaganza that never quite comes together.

The little girl-turned-killer (Karen Gillan, Nebula from "Guardians of the Galaxy") messes up a job, like her mom (Lena Headey) once did, and suddenly finds herself the caretaker for a young girl (Chloe Coleman), which places her in the crosshairs of a friend-turned-foe (Paul Giamatti, sleepwalking through a role). Mom's friends (Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino) help her take on countless baddies, armed with weapons and a date with death, until the end credits arrive with a wet towel and brain cleanse.

With a cast like that, you would think this film would be an easy double into the gap-but it's really not. From the start, the tone and pacing is off. We're rushed from one action sequence, which may have already taken place or not, and then there's an introduction of a character... before the timeline gets pushed around again. Gillan's avenging dark angel doesn't get any time to make the audience care or worry for her. Israeli director Navot Papushado knows his way around an action scene, but the script he wrote with Ehud Lavski gives little reason to care about who lives and dies. Most of the characters here are cardboard cutouts, walking and talking violence-dispensing vessels with no backbone.

Propped up as a starring vehicle for Gillan, who enlivened the "Jumanji" remakes with The Rock, is stuck in robotic hero mode here. For a film aiming for some laughs, her character is so serious.

I am sure the filmmaker hedged a bet on the relationship between her and Coleman carrying the film, but it never materializes. A late scene between Gugino's deadly librarian and the young damsel in distress resonates more. "Gunpowder Milkshake" simply has too much on its mind, a collection of raging music videos shoved together for an experience that leaves you scratching your head more than being moved or wildly entertained.

It's not all bad. A scene involving laughing gas works for a couple scenes. The ladies in the cast try their best to make something out of poorly-written characters, especially Gugino. Headey can read a line with her native accent and command the screen, but she's not around enough. Giamatti borrows some antagonistic moves from his "Shoot 'Em Up" villain. Speaking of that film, out of all the comparisons this film will create-"John Wick" and "Nobody" at the top of the list-it's that Clive Owen-actioner that it strives to be most like in relation to tone. We can call that a misfire.

Look, is it a bad way to spend a couple hours on Netflix on a rainy weekend? Not at all--just keep your expectations in check for a film that wanted to be something so bad, it threw the kitchen sink at the dart board and accidentally knocked it to the ground.

Oh, can you guess that one of the characters really has an affinity for milkshakes?

I'll tell you this much before I go. Papushado has a way behind the camera that can make certain scenes sing. Occasionally, you'll see it here. This film may not be all that it could have been (better screenplay), but it does make me share a desire for what the director does next.