My favourite ‘bit’ from Family Guy is ‘say the title of the movie in the movie’ (season 7, episode 20) – a cutaway during which we watch Peter at the cinema enjoying when several movies mention the title of the movie in the movie. It’s a trope that seems to happen a lot in thriller or action movies, particularly modern ones – who knows the combined total of how many times the eponymous name ‘John Wick’ is uttered in both movies…
It’s a typical trope, one of many, that the film utilises as the film is named after the main character’s profession. Alice Racine (Rapace, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is a CIA interrogator who ‘unlocks’ suspects of terrorism, getting the vital information out of them to prevent attacks of terrorism. Five years ago she ‘unlocked’ as suspect too late and was unable to prevent the deaths of 25 civilians in a bombing in Paris. She decided to go low profile, taking a job working uncover working in an East London citizens advice bureau and passing on intel to MI5 (in the form of Collette, Little Miss Sunshine). A series of unfortunate events leads to Alice being called back into the CIA as she’s the only one who can ‘unlock’ the suspect in time and prevent a huge biological attack from taking place in London. But Alice with infiltration looking certain, just who can Alice trust?
Everything, and I repeat everything, about this film has been done or seen before countless times. From the embittered and emotionally damaged lead (Rapace), aged mentor (Douglas, Ant-Man), the roguish mockney lad/muscle on hand to help (Bloom, Pirates of the Caribbean), the crouchy CIA top dog (Malkovich, Dangerous Liaisons), the icy but caring female boss (Collette) and the civilian who gets caught up in things (an excellent Cole – definitely one to look out for). In fact these aspects are so overly familiar that the only way to truly enjoy the film is to get on board and try really hard not to think about all the films where you have seen all these things done slightly better. Or, and I shall be copyrighting this idea, a bingo drinking-game with each square on the grid filled with a generic feature – each time one appears you get to ‘unlock’ your beverage.
There’s nothing subtle about this smorgasbord of convention and it’s rather too po-faced and serious for it to be interpreted as an ironic rehashing of cliches. At the screening I attended several chuckles, and even groans, were emitted from the bemused audience. My eyes rolled in disbelief so frequently that I was worried they would start to creak in the process. There’s one brief glimmer – a third of the way in – which shines and glimmers with what might have been. During a debrief between MI5 & CIA over webcam Collette’s character momentarily leaves sight of the screen at which point Malkovich dances and grimaces at the screen. It’s a moment of unexpected humour and provoked the first, and only, genuine laugh from the audience. If only the film had chosen to poke fun at the overused tropes instead of using them again with minimal effect, little joy and no irony.
This film is the epitome of what happens when meh movies happen to good actors. The film is made less awful, bordering into watchable, thanks solely to it’s cast – though they admittedly mostly phone in their performances. What a shame the film didn’t ‘unlock’ it’s potential and wasted a cast that should have been brilliant together. Instead they ended up with a thriller that is essentially Spooks, but stupid.
o Dir: Michael Apted
o Scr: Peter O’Brien
o Cast: Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette, Michael Douglas, John Malkovich, Philip Brodie, Tosin Cole.
o Prd: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Claudia Bluemhuber, Erik Howsam, Georgina Townsley
o DOP: George Richmond
o Music: Stephen Barton
o Country: USA
o Year: 2017
o Run time: 98 minutes
Unlocked is in UK cinemas from 27th April.