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- Gunpowder Milkshake
- Directed by Navot Papushado
- Written by Navot Papushado and Ehud Lavski
- Starring Karen Gillan, Lena Headey and Carla Gugino
- Classification R; 114 minutes
- Streaming on Netflix starting July 14
In the future, every action movie will be a John Wick movie.
Already, 2021 has offered big bloody hints as to the genre’s bullet-riddled fate. In March, Bob Odenkirk went all Wick in Nobody, in which the Better Call Saul star played a retired assassin pulled back into an underground populated by quirky psychos, arcane codes of conduct, and secret organizations. And this week, it is Karen Gillan’s turn to murder dozens and trade quips with eccentric contract killers in Gunpowder Milkshake. The only difference is that one of these would-be Wicks is a fun exercise in the power of inspired casting – and the other is absolutely insufferable.
Gunpowder Milkshake’s story is a familiar one, focusing on an ultra-skilled hit-woman named Sam (Gillan) who rubs a mob boss the wrong way, leading to a body count higher than the number of Netflix subscribers who will watch this without reaching for their phones. There is a clandestine firm of fixers to which Sam belongs, an underworld hospital operated exclusively for criminals, and a not-so-secret assassins-only library whose stacks conceal high-powered weaponry.
The central problem with Gunpowder Milkshake is that director Navot Papushado (the Israeli cult hit Big Bad Wolves) fundamentally misunderstand the appeal of the Wick films. Sure, the Keanu Reeves franchise fills its margins with gobbledygook about underworld economies and hitman-only restaurants. But all the eccentric worldbuilding is there to prop up intensely choreographed, fiendishly executed fight scenes between characters we care about (or, at least one stylishly attired dude who just wanted to raise a puppy in peace).
In the Wick series – and Nobody, for that matter – the substance gets stylized. In Gunpowder Milkshake, it is all style – shameless, uninspired, endless.
You’ll get sick of Gunpowder Milkshake’s faux-fun aesthetic from its opening moments, in which retro-diners, oily Russian gangsters, cute-but-deadly teen girls, and whip-cream-topped ice-cream treats act as springboards for violent but confusingly captured mayhem. The whole endeavour smacks of such disingenuous kitsch that, by the moment Sam kills a handful of thugs in a neon-lit bowling alley, you’ll think you, too, lived in the gutter.
I can see the defences of Gunpowder Milkshake forming in the distance, though. That, in its casting of four female super-killers to aid Sam’s quest – played by genre vets Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino and Angela Bassett – the film is in fact a feminist-forward corrective to the dude-heavy Wicks of the world. But I feel that Papushado and co-writer Ehud Lavski are not the least bit interested in action-cinema gender parity – this is regurgitated shoot-’em-up nothingness fetishistically dressed in the cosplay of equality. The women are not characters to care about, but props to kill and be killed.
Perhaps it’s futile to warn of this sub-Wickian world. Netflix is already exploring a Gunpowder Milkshake sequel, and it surely hits all the expected algorithmic buttons. Drink it up, whether you like it or not.
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.