“Salt”, “Lucy”, “Atomic Blonde” and “Red Sparrow” are just some of the recent entries in the female action spy/thriller genre. Only the first on that list actually worked. “The Rhythm Section” was supposed to be a 2019 release. So it’s fair to call it a leftover. And it’s not worth the wait.
For a film in this category to be effective you need a strong lead, impressive action and a story motivated in reality. “The Rhythm Section” lacks all three, hitting all the wrong notes.
Mark Burnell wrote the screenplay from his own novel. Clearly, he was too close to the material. The story begins with junkie, prostitute Stephanie (Blake Lively) having given-up on life. Three years earlier, the rest of her family died in an airline disaster.
But then she learns the explosion on the plane wasn’t an accident. There was a bomb on the plane — and she’s told who was responsible. So she heads to a desolate farmhouse in the middle of nowhere to be trained by ex-CIA agent Iain (Jude Law) to become a professional assassin. Their training sessions, which take-up the next 20 minutes of the film, are ridiculous.
“Rhythm” turns into a combination of “The Hunger Games” (he’s Haymitch, she’s Katniss) and Reese Witherspoon’s “Wild”. Director Reed Morano keeps her camera fixated on Lively throughout, as if something amazing is about to happen at any moment. It doesn’t. 2018’s “Peppermint” succeeded because Jennifer Garner’s character was an ordinary woman who sought revenge her way. Here everything is processed and manufactured.
When Stephanie is ready, she’s sent around the globe on a series of missions to eliminate everyone involved in the bombing. But does she have what it takes to be a killer? She certainly has what it takes to bore people to death.
There isn’t one ounce of authenticity in “The Rhythm Section”. It’s a compilation of random storylines mushed together in a ragged and surprisingly emotion-less narrative. It also doesn’t help that the leads aren’t convincing — especially Law, who looks as if he just didn’t want to be there. Halfway through, Sterling K. Brown shows-up as Stephanie’s new point of contact. This is a thankless role for the talented Brown — one you may see him omit from his IMDb page.
The filmmaking highlight is a car chase that’s one of my favorite — and least favorite — scenes of 2020 so far. While it’s poorly staged and shot, it does provide the only entertainment value of the nearly two hours.
With an opening weekend box office estimate of merely $3 million, “The Rhythm Section” is already the biggest bust of 2020. The good news for Paramount: in less than two weeks a certain blue video game character will get the studio back in rhythm.
LCJ GRADE: D
Running Time: 109 min.