For those of us who relish action-packed Gerard Butler films, there’s often a certain expectation. However, when a Gerard Butler movie attempts to delve into geopolitics with a straight face, it can be a different story. This distinction becomes even more pronounced when the film lacks the thrilling action and intensity we typically associate with Butler’s movies.
In this film, directed by Ric Roman Waugh (known for “Angel Has Fallen” and “Greenland”), Gerard Butler assumes the role of Tom Harris, a CIA black ops agent initially seen planting explosives to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A commendable mission, the film believes. Later, in a rooftop phone conversation, we discover that he’s estranged from the mother of his daughter due to his addiction to his job. Furthermore, he has a limited timeframe to catch a flight to England for his daughter’s graduation.
Butler’s character in this year’s far more compelling “Plane” faced a similar deadline challenge, although in that movie, his daughter was graduating from college, while here, she appears to be graduating from high school.
This plot twist certainly grabbed my attention, but it also made me ponder just how many tired clichés this screenplay by Mitchell LaFortune serves up. To start, Harris predictably misses his flight to Gatwick. Then, he must team up with an Afghan translator named Mo (Navid Negahban), and despite their vast cultural differences, they forge a strong bond that transforms Harris’s perspective on certain matters. Once their cover is blown, they must reach the titular Afghan city to return to their supposed safe haven. It takes a whopping 50 minutes of lackluster espionage before we get our first car chase.
This pursuit is monitored by CIA higher-ups in a war room, with some of their actions captured by drone cameras. When Harris executes an impressive maneuver in a pickup truck, one observer remarks, “I like this guy, he’s good,” sounding like a sports commentator.
During a lull in the action, Mo offers Tom some advice on the importance of cherishing family: “You have to go home and hold them in your hearts before you forget what it feels like.” Do screenwriters genuinely believe that recycling such dialogue enhances its impact? At a militia camp, Tom converses with a tribal leader he knows, who imparts this wisdom: “The harder you try to extinguish an ideology, the stronger it becomes.” No surprises there. Mo identifies this figure as a warlord responsible for a campaign of slaughter in which Mo’s own son perished, leading to a standoff that lacks the intensity it strives for. It also prompts Mo to confront Tom about how foreign interference, such as that of the U.S., contributes to the misery in the region. A valid point, albeit one delivered rather late in the film, almost as an afterthought.
What remains? More chase sequences, one shrouded in various shades of night vision that mostly obscure the action; a noble sacrifice from a supporting Special Forces character; a buildup to a confrontation with a mysterious motorcycle rider pursuing Tom since that initial car chase (played with cool composure by Ali Fazal), who seeks an exit from the game once his target is eliminated. In essence, all the familiar elements are present, but they all seem somewhat worn out.