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A bridge too far – ’21 Bridges’

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Sometimes, it is abundantly clear why a movie doesn’t work. Perhaps a director is out of their element. Perhaps a lead role is woefully miscast. Perhaps the story lacks depth or displays an unfortunate tone-deafness. Sometimes, it’s more than one of these things.

Other times, it isn’t quite so cut-and-dried. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the whole is simply less than the sum of its parts.

The latter description suits the new cop thriller “21 Bridges.” It’s a competently made film with some legitimate star power, featuring some solid action and dramatic tension. The pieces are all there for a good movie … but “21 Bridges” never quite figures out how to put them together.

Now, that’s not to say that this is a bad movie. It isn’t. What it is, unfortunately, is forgettable. And honestly, considering what’s being brought to the table in terms of talent, that’s almost more damning.

Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman, “Avengers: Endgame”) is an NYPD detective struggling to live up to the law enforcement legacy of his deceased father. He’s also developed a bit of a reputation as a loose cannon, having been involved in numerous suspect shootings over the previous few years.

But a loose cannon might be what his next case needs.

A pair of small-time criminals named Michael (Stephan James, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch, TV’s “Waco”) try to hit a local wine store, having heard that there’s a stash of cocaine being held there. However, when the expected 30 kilos turns out to be 300, things quickly begin to spiral – particularly when four police officers show up. Left with no other choice, Michael and Ray shoot their way out.

Eight dead cops – that’s what Davis finds when he arrives on the scene. The dead men’s commanding officer, Captain McKenna (J.K. Simmons, “Klaus”), is desperate to find the culprits and pairs Davis with narcotics officer Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller, “American Woman”). Davis makes the decision to shut down every bridge, tunnel and waterway that allows access onto and off of the island of Manhattan.

The clock is ticking – if Davis can’t track down the culprits by 6 a.m., all access will be reopened and the killers may well be able to escape. It’s a race against time as Davis and Burns try to figure out what happened, even as Michael and Ray attempt to find a way out of their own predicament. However, there are people – on both sides – who know a lot more than they’re letting on about what really went down. People with a lot to lose. People as desperate to hide the truth as Davis is to uncover it.

“21 Bridges” is … fine. It hits its marks and says its lines, with a couple of solid chase scenes and some decent shootouts. It has a consistent aesthetic and tone. The narrative reveals aren’t all that revealing, but that’s no different from most thrillers of this ilk.

But come on. Fine? When you’ve got Chadwick Boseman as your lead? And top-tier dudes like J.K. Simmons and Stephan James as supporting players? You have to do better than fine.

So why doesn’t this movie work? Who’s at fault for this misfire, you ask? That’s the weird thing – I don’t know that it’s anybody’s fault. Not really.

One could argue that director Brian Kirk’s feature inexperience was an issue. But really, he’s a television vet who has worked on some of the small screen’s biggest shows – it’s not like his work wasn’t going to scale up. He’s got a good eye and knows his way around an action set piece. And again, the direction here is certainly competent, albeit unspectacular.

And it’s tough to blame the cast. Boseman is magnetic anytime he’s on a screen; he has the sort of mesmerizing presence that can’t be taught. He’s shown that he can carry a movie; he does a fine job shouldering the load here. Simmons is as reliable as they come, one of those actors who makes a project better simply by being there; “21 Bridges” might have benefitted from a little more of him. Conversely, a little less Sienna Miller would have been OK; she’s not terrible, but her aggressive accent work isn’t always on point. James and Kitsch hold down their own section of the narrative well enough, though their side of things seems a little underbaked.

These are all talented people. And no one did what I would consider to be an actively bad job. But for whatever reason, the bigger picture simply didn’t come into focus. The component parts have been appropriately built, but the necessary mechanisms stubbornly refuse to click into place.

“21 Bridges” is a movie that will almost immediately disappear, falling through the cracks as prestige pictures and holiday blockbusters fill up local screens. And that’s probably as it should be. Again – it’s not really anyone’s fault, but this is a bridge that likely won’t be crossed again.

[2.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 06:40

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