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You’ll drink ‘Gunpowder Milkshake,’ you’ll drink it up

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The constant churn of Netflix, forever turning out project after project, is such that one can never be sure of the quality (or lack thereof) of a given movie. It also means that it can be very difficult to know exactly what one is getting into when they sit down to watch. That said, the churn also results in a wide array of different sorts of movies, running the genre gamut and offering unique opportunities.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” currently streaming on the service, is just such a unique opportunity. The film, directed by Navot Pushapado from a script he co-wrote with Ehud Laveski, is a stylized pastiche of a movie, riddled with homages to an assortment of action and action-adjacent offerings that came before. Some of those nods are overt – the influence of the “John Wick” franchise is all over this movie – while others are a bit more subtle (though that’s likely the last time you’re going to hear anyone use the word “subtle” in reference to this film.

It’s part action thriller, part mother-daughter drama, rife with high-octane set pieces interspersed with moments of fraught emotion. Driven by an exceptional cast and an over-the-top aesthetic, it’s a film whose strengths far outstrip its flaws, resulting in a lurid and loony good time at the movies.

It has been 15 years since Sam (Karen Gillan, “The Call of the Wild”) last saw her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey, “Twist”). The two meet at a diner, where Scarlet confesses that a job has gone wrong and that she is going to have to disappear for a while; she tells Sam that Nathan (Paul Giamatti, TV’s “Billions”) will look after her.

As it turns out, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps – as an elite assassin.

She works as an enforcer for a shadowy group known only as The Firm, for whom the aforementioned Nathan works. An incident involving the son of notable competitor McAlester (Ralph Ineson, “Edge of the World”) means that Sam is on thin ice. She’s sent in pursuit of someone who has stolen from The Firm, but told to exchange her current weaponry for clean gear.

This leads her to a library that lends out a lot more than books. It’s here where we meet a trio of librarians – Madeline (Carla Gugino, TV’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor”), Florence (Michelle Yeoh, “Boss Level”) and Anna May (Angela Bassett, “Soul”) – who serve as the munitions exchange for the various and sundry figures who drift through this world. And it’s a familiar place to Sam – she spent much of her childhood here in the company of her mom.

Sam makes her way to the spot where she’s meant to deal with the thief. What she finds is a little more complicated; the accountant (Samuel Anderson, “Sweetheart”) has been blackmailed. He’s only stolen the money because his daughter has been kidnapped and her life threatened.

Circumstances leave Sam involved in the situation; despite her better instincts, she commits herself to taking down the kidnappers in hopes of salvaging the money AND saving the girl. But while she is able to get Emily (Chloe Coleman, TV’s “Kinderwood”) out of their clutches, the issues surrounding the money leave her at odds with The Firm while also having to deal with the vengeful forces of McAlester.

What follows is a desperate battle for survival, with Sam having to do battle with both allies and enemies alike, all in the name of doing whatever it takes to protect a little girl who proves remarkably quick on the uptake regarding Sam’s line of work. But with so many people wanting her dead, how can she possibly succeed?

With a little help from sources both predictable and unexpected, as it turns out.

“Gunpowder Milkshake” is an absolute blast. It’s a female-forward riff on the sort of soup-to-nuts underworld to which “John Wick” introduced us – special spots where guns are forbidden, devoted public spaces like hospitals and libraries, seemingly everyone we meet capable of high-level hand-to-hand and firearms combat, the whole shebang. If you want to argue that it is derivative, OK, but there’s no denying that it’s fun.

There’s a wonderful aesthetic saturation to the proceedings, alternating between neon-washed brightness and neo-noir shadows. There are great fight sequences, strong chases and a number of wildly overwrought (in a good way) guns-and-more melees, all presented with a straight-faced, not-quite-winking attitude. There’s a quirkiness to it that somehow elevates the violence; it’s not a perfect comparison, but if you can imagine Wes Anderson directing a Tarantino script, you’re in the neighborhood, what with the blend of meticulous production design and hyperviolence.

Now, the movie has its issues. It takes a while to get going; things get bogged down a little in the first 10 minutes or so in establishing exposition. But once things start to cook, they really cook. The film also occasionally succumbs to the temptation that many action offerings do, getting a little overly kinetic with the editing and losing some of the viscerality of the scenes in the process. Minor issues, but noteworthy.

As you’ve likely already determined, this cast is STACKED. Gillan underplays Sam with a stoicism that mostly works, though every once in a while, it feels like she’s trying to do the full Keanu. Still, the choice of affect usually clicks. Coleman is excellent, offering up a first-rate child actor performance; there’s a blend of fear and excitement that she captures nicely. For our librarians, we have a first-rate trio – Gugino, Yeoh and Bassett all crush it; frankly, while the movie is a touch long, I’d still have welcomed more from this particular group. Headey’s usual tight-lipped mien is a good fit for this role; she’s obviously having fun. My love for Paul Giamatti is significant and ongoing; jazzed to see him here, in all his criminally officious glory. And on and on – there are a handful of goons and other one- or two-scene characters that do a lot with a little and they are great fun to watch.

This is a vivid and engaging action offering, one whose strengths far outpace its flaws. It is clever and violent and more than a little weird – a combination after my own heart. It might not work for everyone, but “Gunpowder Milkshake” definitely brought this boy to the yard.

[4 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 19 July 2021 09:48

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