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Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway
Starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas
Classification PG; 116 minutes
Opens Feb. 18 in theatres
There is something perversely impressive about a movie that can make globe-trotting adventure seem so relentlessly boring.
Take Uncharted, the new long-in-the-works adaptation of the long-running video-game series, which features a cast filled with beautiful people doing ridiculously dangerous things in exotic locales … but never once rises to the bare-minimum thrill level of “gee, looks fun.” Even during the very expensive climax – which involves duelling helicopters, two massive pirate ships, cannon balls, sword fights, explosions, gunfire and more, more, more! – I struggled to maintain any sort of basic connection to the action on-screen.
In the hands of a more skilled, determined and enthusiastic group of filmmakers, I could see how all of Uncharted’s mayhem might be twisted for maximum absurdity. But what director Ruben Fleischer and his many writers (three have final credit, but two more came before) have instead delivered is a straight-faced assault of under-the-top tedium.
So, yes, this review is not a recommendation. But I can’t dismiss Uncharted entirely, at least as a curious artifact of how contemporary Hollywood retains a bizarre, utter disdain for its audience.
PlayStation-owning fans have long been clamouring for an adaptation of Uncharted, which has cycled through so many filmmakers (Joe Carnahan! Dan Trachtenberg! Travis Knight! David O. Russell!?) that any development news over the past decade and change was treated as something of an inside joke. Somehow and for some reason, producers settled on Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom), who brings his trademark aesthetic of CGI-enabled emptiness to the job, as well as a bruised and battered script that cannot hide the fact that it’s been punched-up so many times around town that it’s now practically comatose.
The one thing that Uncharted’s team got right: casting Tom Holland as series lead Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter who is a descendant of English explorer Sir Francis Drake, but is more like the unholy love child of Indiana Jones, Robert Langdon and whoever it was that Orlando Bloom played in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. As written for the screen, Drake is a terribly bland and unskilled hero, his most impressive trait being his habit of saying important plot developments out-loud to no one in particular (“gunpowder!”) and his ability to survive incidents that would kill Superman (or, really, Spider-Man). But just as in his infinitely more impressive Marvel Studios franchise, Holland brings a genuine aw-shucks charm to the proceedings, even when he has to deliver callbacks to far better movies (“Nuns, why does it always have to be nuns?”) and run around like a monkey across a football field’s worth of green screens.
Not faring nearly as well is Mark Wahlberg as the more seasoned adventurer Victor Sullivan, who ropes Drake into a scheme to recover a 500-year-old fortune buried in secret by Ferdinand Magellan. Wahlberg, who was once linked to playing Drake himself back when Russell was involved in Uncharted’s early days, could have been wonderful playing an intensely crusty mentor type: think of the actor’s unhinged work in The Departed, or his sweaty passion in any one of Russell’s films (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings). Here, though, Wahlberg puts on his best actor-tron voice and goes through the robotic motions with something approaching contempt for the material – a defiant choice that he doesn’t quite commit to, sadly, instead landing somewhere between indifference and incompetence.
So, what is left in Uncharted to admire beyond Holland, who also earns a demerit mark for not being more discerning in projects between his Spidey gigs? Well, I guess Antonio Banderas has some fun as the movie’s snarling villain, who thinks he has a birthright to Magellan’s gold. But the actor is not on-screen nearly as much as he should be. Maybe Sophia Ali, who plays Drake’s fellow adventurer and sorta love interest Chloe Frazer? But like everyone else, the actress is given the absolutely shoddiest of material to work with.
Ultimately, if you absolutely must see Uncharted – perhaps your romantic partner is a big video-game fan, or maybe you just need to get out of the house for one single minute of this infernal pandemic winter, both reasons completely understandable – then I guess see it for a Grade-A example of how old-school Hollywood is determined to run itself into the ground. Or into the sky, carried by helicopters and surrounded by CGI gunfire.
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