Charlize Theron is the “Atomic Blonde,” but has been that and much more for some time now. She’s gorgeous (are we right guys?), formidable and commanding, carrying the gravitas of a super-hero. Despite a strong cast, including John Goodman and Toby Jones, this movie could be called, “Snow White and the Seven Others.”
Stuntman David Leitch directs his first film solo (he co-directed “John Wick”). It drags between stunts and would stall altogether without Theron’s presence. She prepared for the role with the assistance of eight personal trainers as well as with Keanu Reeves, while making “John Wick 2.” The payoff was the credible as well as incredible fight sequences and action scenes. Undeniably, Theron is up to the task for each.
Based on Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel “The Coldest City,” this espionage thriller is set in 1989 Berlin, at the end of the Cold War, when the wall came tumbling down. Unfortunately, the overwrought script from writer Kurt Johnstad (“300”) is filled with tedious narrative explanations of the spy vs spy dilemma. It’s kills the momentum at every turn. What’s more, Johnstad doesn’t seem to understand the audience came to see an action movie and not an overly complex suspense chronicle.
The story is told entirely in flashback from an inquiry conducted by Emmett Kurzfeld (Goodman) and Eric Gray (Jones) from the British Secret Intelligence Service. The roughed up Agent Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is grilled by her superiors because something had gone terribly wrong. She is respected for her experience, capabilities and savagery, as she is willing to deploy her unique skills on each impossible mission.
Apparently, Lorraine had been sent alone into Berlin to deliver a priceless dossier out of the destabilized city. She partnered with embedded station chief David Percival, played by a disheveled James McAvoy, looking like an aging Ringo Starr. Together, they must navigate their way through a deadly game of spies and counter-spies.
The piercing 80’s soundtrack from Depeche Mode, New Order and Ministry, enlivens the action, but too often, the incessant “noise” detracts from the story. So, Leitch double downs with generous helpings of unnecessarily gratuitous violence, nudity and vulgarity. He then tops it off with a lesbian sex scene with French Agent Lasalle (Sofia Boutella).
Theron parades around in short skirts, garters and stiletto heels, but with this thin script and clunky direction, it’s as if she’s all dressed up with nowhere to go. In fairness, the frequent stunts are smart, imaginative and entertaining. They are well choreographed, brutal and believable. It’s exhilarating to see thugs get their butts kicked by a girl, but occasionally, we still care about the who and the why, which is not always clear.
In between action scenes, Theron is as impassive and intimidating as any macho hero on screen today. As she is a master at the dramatic pause, Theron can stare a hole through a metal plate. Meanwhile, her supporting cast too often appears as if they forgot their lines. The terrific fights, chases and shootouts might still entertain those that can look past the anemic script and clumsy direction. Each action scene features this exciting, inspiring and mesmerizing action hero.
“Atomic Blonde” is 115 minutes and rated R for sequences of strong violence, language, sexuality and nudity. It is rumored the next James Bond could be a woman. If so, we believe this film should be the audition tape for Charlize Theron. We were impressed with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, but Theron takes it to the next level.
Although this is a U.S. made movie about the Berlin Wall, we have to agree with the East German judge and give it a low score. In an early scene, partner David Percival screams to Lorraine, “Don’t shoot, I’ve got your shoe!” This supports the well-known saying, “Give a woman the right shoes and she can conquer the world.”
Ron’s Rating: C Leigh’s Rating: D