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In Crisis, Gary Oldman plays a professor whose research for a new non-addictive painkiller is proving to be sinister.Philippe Bosse/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

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  • Crisis
  • Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki
  • Starring Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly
  • Classification R; 118 minutes

The opioid crisis is a deadly epidemic that shows no sign of slowing down. While broad news coverage of the devastation has been far from ideal, it is certainly newsworthy enough that a Hollywood treatment was inevitable. Unfortunately for the world, the person to have taken on that task is Nicholas Jarecki, the producer, writer and director of Crisis.

When discussing the mess that is Crisis, we must first address the elephant in the room: co-star Armie Hammer. Just as the film was released, Hammer was the subject of allegations of abuse and predatory behavior. It would be easy to think this fact alone meant the movie already had cards stacked against it, but I assure you its problems are not limited to Hammer’s involvement.

Crisis contains three different storylines, each attempting (and failing) to tackle how the opioid epidemic is affecting the world on different levels: at a research and academic level; how everyday people become victims; and how difficult it is for police to seek justice. Hammer plays Jake Kelly, an undercover agent who’s trying to land a major bust between an Armenian cartel and a Montreal fentanyl drug lord named “Mother.” Evangeline Lilly plays Claire Reinmann, an architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction whose son mysteriously dies from an overdose. And Gary Oldman plays Dr. Tyrone Brower, a professor whose research for a new non-addictive painkiller is proving to be sinister.

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Hammer stars as Jake Kelly, an undercover agent who’s trying to land a major bust.Jan Thijs/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Because the film features so many storylines competing for screen-time, virtually every interaction is pure exposition, and each character has only one defining characteristic: they’re all really frustrated. Each scene exists to explain what happened, how something works or what is going to happen next.

Jake is frustrated because his sister Emmie (Lily-Rose Depp) is an addict, meaning his pursuit of justice is supposed to be passionate. Emmie’s inclusion in the film is especially confusing, as she serves almost no purpose at all than to give Jake some type of depth beyond being a cop. Mind you, he’s not particularly great at his job either, as he is constantly making mistakes that seem easily avoidable – but for Jarecki, Kelly caring a lot is enough of a reason for viewers to not question why we’re watching him.

Claire, meanwhile, knows that her son wasn’t involved in drugs and is eager to find out the truth. But Lilly, who gives the only decent performance in the movie, is unfortunately given no space to move beyond being a mom who will stop at nothing for justice. Dr. Brower, a firm believer in science, cannot in good faith endorse this new drug, and to convey this, Oldman is just very loud.

Each storyline is easy to follow because Jarecki never gets anywhere close in his writing or direction to making the viewer feel anything at all. But beyond his sterile and shallow filmmaking, he is able to somehow also fill the movie with plot holes and gives no broader context to the real-life opioid crisis beyond a message of “Drugs are bad and nobody knows how to fix this problem.”

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The third storyline involves Evangeline Lilly's Claire, an architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction whose son mysteriously dies from an overdose.Philippe Bosse/Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

The film is filled with frankly offensive portrayals of addiction and policing. At one point early on, Jake’s team exposes how the drugs so easily get into so many people’s hands. Homeless people are recruited to work for dealers, and their exploitation is not framed as troubling but instead kind of badass.

While the film is awful, Jarecki’s approach to filmmaking is still paint-by-numbers watchable, solely because the genre is familiar. The director has clearly watched enough movies to understand that pool halls and dive bars are good places for gangsters to hang out, that seedy deals happen in motel rooms and that a mother’s love is stronger than any other earthly force.

Occasionally, there is value in a truly bad film because the act of hate-watching can be gratifying. But Crisis can’t even provide that because of the lack of care Jarecki shows toward a truly underrepresented epidemic. Those who have died or spent years tackling the opioid crisis deserve better than this.

Crisis is available on-demand, including Apple TV/iTunes and the Google Play Store, starting March 16

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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