Directed by Pierre Morel
Written by Jacob Lentz
Starring John Cena, Alison Brie and Christian Slater
Classification PG; 109 minutes
Opens in theatres Oct. 27
Someone – perhaps Dwayne Johnson’s manager – needs to sit down and have a serious talk with John Cena.
The wrestler-turned-actor has the natural charisma, good sense of humour, and gym-built brawn to be a true, full-blooded American action hero of the first calibre. Yet he keeps following up memorable Hollywood moments (his foe-turned friend in the Fast & Furious movies, his anti-hero in James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker) with curious cash-grabs. These are the kind of lower-rent genre efforts like Hidden Strike and The Independent that arrive on screens seemingly out of nowhere, vanishing into the streaming void just as quickly.
And the void is exactly where you will likely find Cena’s latest film, Freelance, in a few weeks’ time. A meat-and-potatoes action-comedy that’s rather light on the protein to say nothing of its starchiness, the action flick comes dangerously close to pinpointing and then properly exploiting Cena’s charm, yet consistently misses the mark by an inch or two. It is almost painful to watch the actor give everything he has to the project before realizing that he’s signed on to just another payday job.
Perhaps the most fun that can be wrung from Freelance, then, is viewing the screenplay as an accidental meta-commentary on Cena’s own career woes, given that it focuses on a former Special Forces tough guy named Mason (Cena, of course) who is desperate for cash and excitement now than he’s a suburban dad and low-stakes attorney with a cute daughter and a wife who hates him. When his old military buddy (Christian Slater, parachuting in for a few minutes of screen time) comes calling with a supposedly easy assignment to escort disgraced journalist Claire (Alison Brie) into the jungle of a fictional South American country, Cena – I mean, Mason – jumps at the chance for the promise of an exotic locale and fat payday.
Matters quickly go awry after Claire meets up with the country’s suspiciously suave dictator (Juan Pablo Raba), but not in an especially entertaining way. Is prolific action-flick churner Pierre Morel (who has made everything from the genre staple Taken to the execrable Peppermint) trying to make a rollicking romcom-adventure à la Romancing the Stone? Perhaps, given that there are mild sparks flying between Cena and Brie, the latter of whom continues her streak of providing vivid energy to insultingly underwritten female roles. But Morel is too impatient to develop any true romantic tension, and instead swerves things into overdone rebels-versus-autocrat shenanigans. Coups, killings, and catastrophe, you know the drill.
Too tame in its violence to be thrilling, too flat in its gags to be funny, and too PG-minded to be genuinely sexy, Morel’s film arrives and exits like a mild breeze – totally and utterly forgettable. John Cena deserves better. And so do we.