Synopsis – Three generations of women fight back against those who could take everything from them.
My Take – While films based on assassins have been around for more than two to three decades, the massive success of the Keanu Reeves led John Wick films have rejuvenated interest in the sub-genre from all corners, guaranteeing re-watch of misjudged gems like Smokin’ Aces (2006), Shoot ’Em Up (2007), and Wanted (2008), mainly as they delivered on the feeling fresh and fun element, without being wholly original in the script department.
Hence, it is easy to see how director and co-writer Navot Papushado owes a significant debt to many such features that preceded it, as his female-centric neon-coated stylish and violent thriller, which recently debuted on Netflix, mishmashes everything to create something that is an absolute blast and allows its leading ladies to revel in the violence they dish out, getting the chance to be just as smart, vicious, and downright deadly as any of their cinematic male counterparts.
Sure, the story isn’t inventive or impactful and its narrative is paper-thin in places, often seeming to consist of something decided randomly, but, there’s a level of absurdity that keeps it lighthearted and humorous. The action is creative, the cast is very fun, and there’s not a single boring moment.
It’s like a cartoonish-violent romp, where women hold all the power, and director Papushado does a great job of keeping things particularly entertaining. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then prepare for a neon tinged blood soaked sugar rush.
The story follows Samantha aka Sam (Karen Gillan), a young woman who has been working as an assassin for the mysterious organization called The Firm ever since her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey) abandoned both her and the company to go into hiding after a job went wrong 15 years ago. Now, Sam takes her assignments from Nathan (Paul Giamatti), head of the HR department and a friend of Scarlet, who has been looking after her all these years. But when a routine assignment gets botched due to bad intel, resulting in the death of Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson), the leader of a powerful crime organization, Sam finds herself becoming the target of his army of goons.
To make matters worse, when she screws up another assignment from Nathan, leaving her saddled with Emily (Chloe Coleman), an eight-year-old girl, he also makes her a target for the Firm. With doors closing in on her from all sides, Sam and Emily end up seeking the help of a resurfaced Scarlet and the sisterhood, Anna May (Angela Bassett), Florence (Michelle Yeoh) and Madeleine (Carla Gugino), setting the stage for a cocktail of violent confrontations.
What follows is a sequence of highly stylized and wildly entertaining fight sequences, which allow the film’s cast of actresses the chance to shoot, stab, and roundhouse kick their enemies with abandon across a variety of fabulous settings. There is no doubt about how director Papushado and cinematographer Michael Seresin transform a generic script into a neon-filled blast, making smart uses of lighting, music, production design, make-up and color grading, creating the perfect atmosphere for such a loud entertaining film.
Those familiar with the ‘John Wick’ universe, will immediately recognize the similarities. From the diner where customers are forced to leave their guns at the door to the fantastic library where the shelving system is based primarily on the weapons that can be found in each section, to the special hospital where crooks can go to get mended, this is a film that makes no apologies about its inspirations and how it prefers to emphasize style over substance, setting encounters in places like a bowling alley called the Gutterball and establishing the female characters’ mystique by making them librarians.
Here, director Papushado also delivers a series of absolute incredible action pieces, dishing out thrilling, bloody violence with a commendable range of weaponry, including chains, gold bars and bowling balls. Two sequences in particular stand out, both of which occur directly after Sam’s arms have been paralyzed by a duplicitous doctor. Tapped with a gun to one hand and a knife to the other, she proceeds to defeat her enemies by whirling her arms about and getting lucky with random stabs and shots.
In the second, Sam’s unable to steer a getaway car, so she makes Emily sit on her lap and barks orders to turn the wheel or change gear as they try to escape various carloads of bad guys. Both sequences are a joy to watch, and the other fight scenes are equally entertaining, particularly a pair of knockdown, drag-out scraps in a bowling alley and the Library, the latter of which is further enhanced by some expert editing and a splendid soundtrack.
Sure, the story itself is very light on depth and detail, barely even bothers to flesh out the supporting characters like McAlester, let alone Nathan and the Firm. But this is a film that isn’t to be taken seriously. It’s fun, simple, violent, and captivating.
Performance wise, it is Karen Gillan’s show from start to finish. Gillan ably carries this film on her back, and performs more than a few truly fabulous sequences, most notably one in which Sam must take on a pack of nameless henchmen with little more than a bowling ball and a children’s panda-shaped suitcase. She also shares great chemistry with Lena Headey, who for a change is delivering funny lines.
Similarly, Chloe Coleman puts in a scene-stealing turn as Emily, while Carla Guigno, Angela Bassett, and Michelle Yeoh also seem to be having a blast in their underwritten characters. In small roles, Ralph Ineson, Paul Giamatti, Freya Allan, Michael Smiley and Adam Nagaitis make the most of it. On the whole, ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is a thrillingly violent action thriller that is stylish, colorful and incredibly fun.
Directed – Navot Papushado
Rated – R
Run Time – 114 minutes