June 2, 2022

The Rhythm Section (2020)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Reed Morano
Stars: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown

What it's about. A hitwoman thriller starring Blake Lively. Based on the novel of the same name by Mark Burnell.

Stephanie (Lively) misses a plane flight. The rest of her family boards, and the plane blows up in the sky due to a bomb made by terrorist Reza (Tawfeek Barhom). The thirty-something Stephanie is so devastated that she becomes a low rent drug addicted London prostitute.

But Keith (Raza Jaffrey) tracks her down. He is obsessed with the plane crash, and getting revenge on those behind the bombing. Keith puts Stephanie on the path to becoming a hitwoman, and she is "ready for the field" after months of training by lone wolf secret agent Boyd (Jude Law).

Boyd has Stephanie meet Serra (Sterling K. Brown), a cynical information merchant who somehow knows where every bad guy lives. Stephanie in due course takes out all the bad guys, including Serra. But it isn't easy, surviving a gauntlet of fights, shootouts, and chase scenes worthy of The Bride in the Kill Bill movies.

How others will see it. Although hardly as infamous as Heaven's Gate, The Rhythm Section has the dubious distinction of being one of the biggest box office failures in film history. It had a budget of 50M and a worldwide gross of only 6M. The Hawaii Film Critics Society added insult to injury by nominating it for Worst Film of the Year, "losing" to Wonder Woman 1984.

Alas, it fares little better at imdb.com. While it does have 18K user votes, the user rating is a paltry 5.4 out of 10. While that doubles the user rating of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), that movie did not cost 50M to make. What went wrong?

Certainly, The Rhythm Section is bleak. Blake Lively is not eye candy here, either, so forget Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. It's more like Jason Bourne with Death Wish family vengeance motivations, only Lively needs a spectacular amount of luck to make it through the film alive.

The user reviews are more favorable than the user rating implies. I suspect it comes down to the lack of entertainment value: a plain woman getting into and out of a ton of trouble while somehow managing to kill a number of bad guys. Viewers want her to be beautiful and infallible, and thrill a la Taken while she takes out the awful people who conspired to blow up a commercial flight carrying her family.

How I felt about it. We can't change the past. What happened time ago did happen, no matter how implausible. The 10-6 New York Giants did beat the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. And Blake Lively does kill all the major players who killed her family.

If what happens must happen, then make it believable. Lively is not a dime novel heroine who is just better than everyone. Instead, she is all too fallible, and succeeds only because Jude Law is pressing her relentlessly, and because she is extraordinarily lucky in her run-ins with bad guys and their protection teams.

We do find it hard to believe that Lively is called upon again and again to be a hitwoman when she lacks the nerve to shoot Reza at the restaurant, or shoot Lehmans (Richard Brake) in the back of the head, or cut the throat of Giler (Max Casella). She does fight with these men, and get beat up, but the only person she actually kills is Serra. Lehman asphixiates because he can't reach his breathing tube, and Giler and Reza are blown up by others.

Lively's film career was hardly helped by this flop, despite her months of preparation for the role and the nasty hand injury secured when a fight scene with Jude Law went wrong. But she isn't bad, except for her delivery of one line, "So I'm asking you, any regrets?" You can't be flatline all the time.