[3 stars]

When Antoine Fuqua (Equalizer 2) is directing you are likely expecting a gritty, well-paced action drama. It’s what he does and does well. But when a voice over starts off the movie explaining what’s going on rather than putting it into the story … and that explanation is utterly ridiculous to boot, you know you’ve likely set your expectations incorrectly. Fortunately, it does then go into one of several car chases and fight sequences to take the bitter pill of exposition out of your mouth. However it forever removes you from the chance to go on the journey with the main character, Mark Wahlberg (Instant Family), because now we know the truth.

To be clear, I have no problem with the base preference of the story (that there are people who can remember all their previous lives and skills). It’s a nice sort of reverse Highlander. However, it’s the explanation of the conflict and the goals involved that I found hard to digest. By the time we get a very delayed, and particularly illuminating bit of exposition, via Chiwetel Ejiofor (Locked Down) about half-way through the flick it’s too late to care. It is just all so arch.

What it does have going for it is a cast willing to commit to the story and some fun action scenes. Wahlberg and Sophie Cookson (Red Joan) work well together. And Dylan O’Brien (Flashback) gets to kick off the story in a role I’m sure he would have had trouble turning down…it’s as close to Bond as he’s likely ever to get.  Liz Carr (The OA) has the only role with a grounded sense of humor, while Jason Mantzoukas (Invincible) pushes it all a bit too much.

The fact is that this is a huge cast and a huge canvas, but with few standouts other than the main three players. It was intended for the big screen with visuals substituting for, and distracting from, the weak story. The logic holes, particularly around Ejiofor’s character’s ultimate plan, are gigantic. Add to this the Matrix-like aspects of the story (not to mention Endgame) that get shimmed in and, well, you’re left with an amusing actioner without a lot of believable substance. Maybe that’s enough for an evening’s distraction. It got me through…barely.

This was another of the big budget pandemic victims, pulled from theaters to be only streaming. I can imagine it played bigger and more distractingly on the huge screen. But on a smaller screen it requires a bit more story and character to hold the audience and my attention. Ultimately, I had some fun. I certainly enjoyed the action, and hummed through the plot. It wasn’t an easy story to tackle, though a group with more chops in genre might have found a more elegant path to present it.

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