For movie fans, it’s almost impossible to escape the month of January without running into a bad movie. This year has been a notable surprise thanks to the entertaining exploits in both Bad Boys for Life and The Gentlemen. However, movies like the inexplicable Dolittle and now The Rhythm Section are stark reminders that the first month of the year is the dumping ground for films that studios know don’t deserve prime slots later in the year.
As we meet Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively), she has fallen into a deep and dark depression following the deaths of her entire family in a plane crash. A reporter who believes that the crash might have been a terrorist act — as if something like that wouldn’t already have been explored — puts her on a path of revenge. That path leads her to an unnamed man (Jude Law), a shadowy figure who’s part of an even shadowier organization that claims to know the people responsible for the bombing.
The film follows a familiar storyline, as Stephanie — who assumes the name of a dead hit woman, Petra — learns the ropes of being an international assassin. Law’s character sends her to cities around the world to track down various figures who may or may not have been involved with the bombing. The more she learns, though, the deeper she gets into a morally murky world that she may not be able to escape.
If the film — based on the first of a series of books by screenwriter/novelist Mark Burnell centered around the character of Stephanie Patrick — is supposed to set her up as a burgeoning action hero, it fails miserably. The training sequences do nothing to establish her bona fides, even after she drags herself out of her grief. There are three main action sequences that pit her against potential targets, and none of them inspire excitement, much less confidence in her skills as a killer-for-hire.
The lack of thrills is even more disappointing given the presence of producer Barbara Broccoli, who has almost exclusively made James Bond movies. This rare foray into a non-007 movie could have been a chance for her to show that she knows how to build up a character that isn’t well known. Instead, it’s just missed opportunity after missed opportunity, as she and director Reed Morano never seem to find their footing.
The film also features random, incongruous pop songs that don’t match the scenes to which they’re attached, a title that makes no sense even when it’s explained twice in the movie, and a supporting role from Sterling K. Brown that somehow makes his strong character seem milquetoast. All of this adds up to a formula for film that goes nowhere.
Since Gossip Girl wrapped up in 2012, Lively has been trying to make her way as a movie star, with hit-and-miss results. She certainly has the talent to become just as big as her husband, Ryan Reynolds, but her choice of projects so far has not been the best. It’s also getting increasingly difficult to let Law slide by on his charms alone. He’s unconvincing in this role, as he essentially has nothing to do but glower at Stephanie and occasionally beat her up in the name of training.
Anyone who had high hopes of The Rhythm Section being the start of a new action franchise can quickly be disabused of that notion. It has nothing to offer that hasn’t been done many times before in much better ways.