If you’ve ever seen John Wick, The Samorai or Leon: the professional, then you basically saw Gunpowder milkshake, another action movie with assassins on the run.
The staging is essential: Karen Gillan is Sam, a successful woman for hire in Berlin. She is sent to kill the son of a mobster and then to threaten his accountant: only the accountant has stolen the money to pay the ransom of his kidnapped girlfriend, Emily (Chloe Coleman). After things go wrong, Sam and Emily are on the run, hiding in parking lots and taking refuge with Sam’s mother, another paid hitman named Scarlet (Leana Headey).
You can probably guess what happens next. Bad guys get hit, bones are shattered, blood fills the screen, and a corporate boss (Paul Giamatti) sends dozens of ringtones to take out our mother / daughter pair. It’s Hitman Cinema 101, with all the fedoras, trench coats, bright colors and silver bullets, laughable jokes and Park Chan-Wook giveaways you’d expect from this sort of thing, just without the necessary inventiveness.
Gunpowder milkshake it’s one of those films where the director (Navot Papushado) thinks casting women in generic action roles makes the action less generic. Take, for example, a Wick-style underworld run by three tough / beautiful icons, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett and Carla Gugino. All the female power in the world can’t save them from feeling like tired helpers, as the trio joins Sam and Emily.
Papushado pays tribute to by Wick choreographed with a long and insane fight scene, shot in fantastic slow-motion shots lasting over ten seconds. It goes up and down the stairs, on and off the shelves, in hidden passageways and through pools of blood. It’s a tremendous feat of action, Gillan’s performance, and physical endurance on the part of the machine operator. It is also the soundtrack for “Piece of My Heart”, with Janis Joplin’s earth-shattering voice echoing through the speakers.
Unfortunately, the film (currently in Netflix’s Top 10) can’t keep up with the same energy. After a lively, bare-handed first act, all neon lights and mesmerizing slow-motion, the second act drags itself into the feminist sermon. Narrative momentum gets sucked in faster than the title’s milkshake, and none of the coolly delivered speeches have a dramatic punch. Haven’t we passed the point where women annoying men are considered progress?
Wouldn’t it be much nicer if these women were allowed to forge their own paths, without all the riffs on other movies? Sure it would. But directors still think it’s new to cast women in male roles. We have Ghostbusters: with women!, Oceans 11: With Women!, Captain America: With women! and now John Wick: With women!
It’s time for women to get their asses their way, on their terms.