Gunpowder Milkshake Review: Lazy Action Fantasy Borrows Its Moves from John Wick

The fundamental ineptness of Gunpowder Milkshake appears to be a consequence of the exponentially swelling glut of streaming options.

Gunpowder Milkshake
Photo: Netflix

Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake swipes more than a few cues from the John Wick series. Instead of the High Table we get the Firm, a shadowy cabal of wealthy men who dole out hit jobs while insisting that their assassins adhere to a well-defined moral code. Instead of the Continental, the lavish hotel where John Wick and his colleagues gather to relax, we get a 1950s-style diner and a hospital where rival assassins mingle after checking their guns at the door. Even the film’s protagonist, Sam (Karen Gillan), is made a target of every hired gun when she breaks one of the Firm’s cardinal rules by accidentally killing the son of one of her bosses (Ralph Ineson) on a routine assignment.

Such lazy plundering of another action franchise’s beats is unfortunately par for the course in Gunpowder Milkshake, which often feels like it’s built out of the spare parts of other (often better) films. The bomber jacket that Sam slips into before fighting baddies in a bowling alley recalls the iconic jacket from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, while the plotline involving her saving and protecting a little girl, Emily (Chloe Coleman), is right out of Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional. Some of these parallels could be chalked up to intentional pastiche, but even the parts of Papushado’s film that don’t veer uncomfortably close to plagiarism are so half-hearted in their construction that they still manage to seem remarkably stale.

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From its jarring shifts in tone, as in the slapstick view of Sam being drugged at the hospital, to its hollow signaling to girl power when the trio of Florence (Michelle Yeoh), Madeleine (Carla Gugino), and Anna May (Angela Bassett) team up with Sam and her estranged mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), to take on the Firm, Gunpowder Milkshake is overstuffed with ideas that lack for verve and are never stitched together into a cohesive vision. Worst of all, the film’s fight sequences are so slapdash that it’s impossible to imagine them inviting favorable comparison to the John Wick films, or even Atomic Blonde. All the quick cutting and upbeat music in the world can’t disguise the fact that most of the punches and kicks delivered across the film don’t hit their targets and that many of the stunts are considerably aided by camera tricks.

That a production like Gunpowder Milkshake with such a stellar cast—of the film’s many faults, the performances aren’t among them—could be so ineptly assembled appears to be a consequence of our exponentially swelling glut of streaming options. And, lest there be any doubt, its feminist cred extends not one inch beyond its casting. In fact, the film’s message of empowerment, of women claiming their place in a world dominated by men, is undermined by the fact that the actresses at its center end up feeling like mere props. Which is all to say that, like countless other streaming movies that are aware of themselves as “content,” Gunpowder Milkshake feels doomed to drift into the ether the second it drops off the main page.

Score: 
 Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Chloe Coleman, Ralph Ineson, Adam Nagaitis, Michael Smiley, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti  Director: Navot Papushado  Screenwriter: Navot Papushado, Ehud Lavski  Distributor: Netflix  Running Time: 114 min  Rating: R  Year: 2021

Derek Smith

Derek Smith's writing has appeared in Tiny Mix Tapes, Apollo Guide, and Cinematic Reflections.

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