Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

SR Rhythm Section

Jude Law and Blake Lively appear in a scene from 'The Rhythm Section' (2020).

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The great filmmaker Howard Hawks once said that one of the keys to making a successful movie is to make sure each scene moves the story along. When looking at the director’s works, whether it be “Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday” or “Red River,” you see this principle in action; his narratives move, sometimes relentlessly, with a sense of purpose and energy that sweeps the viewer along, allowing us to get wrapped up in his characters’ plights without realizing it.

One would think this would be an obvious approach for any director, yet it’s one that seems to have been overlooked by the filmmakers behind a spate of recent misfires including “The Turning,” “Gretel and Hansel” and, perhaps most egregiously, “The Rhythm Section,” a so-called action film that gives new meaning to the word “inert.”

Flat, repetitious and unoriginal, this would-be franchise starter is dead on arrival thanks not only to director Reed Morano’s inability to film an exciting action scene but also to simply move the story along at more than a snail’s pace. A potent cure for insomnia, “Section” wastes two strong performances from its leads and squanders a prime opportunity to start a potentially intriguing franchise.

Based on the novel by Mark Burnell, Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively) is a woman who’s been adrift since her family was killed in a plane crash. Addicted to heroin and working as a prostitute, she’s approached one day by a reporter who claims to have found evidence proving the disaster was an act of terrorism and that he knows the identity of the man who made the bomb. This snaps Patrick out of her stupor, and she sets out to track down those responsible for killing her family, something she’s woefully unprepared to do. Ex-MI-6 agent B (Jude Law) reluctantly takes her under his wing, knowing full well she’ll likely fail in her mission but intent on training her all the same.

These sequences are the best thing about the movie as Lively and Law have an obvious rapport, with the latter wearing the role of the bitter mentor like a second skin. The film would have been much better had it simply focused on the interplay between these two damaged people, each the walking dead, enduring their lives instead of living them.

Instead, we’re subjected to a needlessly convoluted story that sees Patrick dealing with nefarious sorts that have very little to do with her ultimate goal.

Burnell’s adaptation of his own novel is a mess as it includes unnecessary subplots and repetitious actions that prevent the film from generating any sort of momentum. Clocking in at just under two hours, this could have been a taut 90-minute thriller had someone not so close to the story been allowed to prune away its unnecessary plot threads. Instead, we’re forced to endure a slow slog from one predictable moment to the next.

Morano is not adept at constructing a proper action scene, her camera always too close for clarity’s sake, these sequences lacking any sense of urgency. Notice how two key moments end with combatants engaged in a slow crawl toward a weapon. The tedium is agonizing while her decision to put the camera inside Patrick’s vehicle during a car chase muddles things, as the confined space prevents us from seeing what’s actually going on.

That this story is familiar is of little consequence. Entertaining films have been made from recycled narratives, as the producers of “Section,” Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the duo behind the James Bond films, know full well. No, it’s the execution that’s lacking here as Burnell and Moreno prove inept where creating suspense is concerned.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.