Starz Digital Media
There really aren’t enough female-headlined action films, so when one comes along it’s almost worth a look on its existence alone. Ideally it will lean more Haywire than Mercenaries quality-wise, but the paucity of options means we’ll take what we can get at this point. Happily, the newest lady-led action picture, Momentum, is an entertaining and frequently thrilling ride that very nearly lives up to its title.
A high-tech team of slick-looking bank robbers are midway through their heist when mistakes and bad attitudes get the better of them. One of their number is killed, and another is unmasked in front of the hostages. With her face all over the news, Alex (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace) is forced to lay low and wait for the deal with those who hired her team to wrap up, but a double cross leaves her on the run and low on options. A man named Washington (James Purefoy, Solomon Kane) is on her trail, but the bigger threat might just be the U.S. Senator (Morgan Freeman, playing against type as a character who wants to be president but isn’t yet) pulling his strings.
Stephen S. Campanelli’s day job as a long-time camera operator for Clint Eastwood takes a backseat for his feature directorial debut, and the result is a fun, fast-moving action-thriller that hits some speed bumps along the way but still delivers where it counts.
The action sequences are strong starting with the opening heist and continuing on through shoot-outs, fist fights, and pretty stellar car chase. An early hotel fracas showcases both Alex’s capabilities and Washington’s malicious ways – along with Kurylenko’s action chops and the pure joy of an evil Purefoy. The fight choreography feels right for Kurylenko’s frame meaning we’re never in doubt of her abilities, and the bigger action is well-crafted to the various environments.
Just as entertaining at times is the back and forth banter between Alex and Washington. Their dialogue is a the kind of witty and insulting mix that you’d hope real criminals use in their day to day exchanges but you doubt actually exists. Performer-wise these two are by far the strongest here, and it’s not just because of the rough acting seen in some of the supporting roles.
The script moves the film into generic, mid-list action territory with some repetitive beats and simplicity, but there are highlights including Alex’s character and the details of the opening heist. That opening is also a source of curiosity though as it appears to exist in some manner of the near future – the robbers’ suits feature lights, voice modulators, and other advancements, and the bank’s vault uses a biological lock that feels very much like science fiction. Once they leave the bank though it feels like it could be any time between the late ’90s and the present. It’s either an odd choice or late recognition that the budget wasn’t going to last.
Momentum is a fun, sleek movie that’s far better than most straight-to-DVD/VOD action films, and while I’m not as confident as the film’s ending is that it’s the start of a possible franchise I’m certainly hopeful.
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The rape/revenge sub-genre had its heyday back in the ’70s and ’80s, but recent years have seen something of a resurgence (for better or worse) with films like Avenged, American Mary, and I Spit on Your Grave 3 standing apart from the crowd. The latest stab at testing the boundaries of good taste and thrills is a debut feature following a traumatized woman and a very peculiar support group.
Julia (Ashley C. Williams, The Human Centipede) meets a co-worker at his apartment for a blind date, but she realizes a couple drinks in that something is amiss. She’s drugged and raped by four guys who leave her for dead with the hope that the tide will take her away. Nature fails them though, and instead she survives and slowly begins to get back to a normal life. She takes a detour after hearing about a radical therapy group whose members engage in violent acts of catharsis – they lure men with the promise of sex only to deliver brutal death in its place.
This much is expected, but writer/director Matthew A. Brown throws a couple of kinks into the mix that serve to blur the hazy moral atmosphere even further and make it more than just a mash-up of Ms. 45 and The Star Chamber. The group has a rule that their kills can’t be personal, so we’re left watching the women kill guys who’ve done nothing more than agree that sex with a hot girl in a crappy bar bathroom could be a good idea. Sure they’re usually sexist douche bags, but murdering them crosses a line between vigilantism and thrill kills when the women initiate and at no point resist.
The second point puts an even odder spin on the female revenge formula in that the group is overseen and masterminded by a man (Jack Noseworthy). His presence as leader, and the rule that Julia has to give herself over to his control, reduces the female empowerment angle a bit. It may even erase it all together.
There’s no real reason given as to why it has to be a man or what his end game ultimately is, and we’re left with a woman struggling to regain the power she lost to men by acting on the whim of another man. Add in a copious amount of nudity and girl on girl action and the film’s male gaze mentality stands out even further. It’s not long before she breaks both of the group leader’s rules though. The film shifts away from its rape/revenge aesthetic and fully embraces the already established change from an acute response to male aggression into something more akin to a shotgun blast towards people in general.
Brown definitely teases some questions he chooses not to pursue, but that lack of narrative exploration doesn’t mean the film falters. Rather than mire itself in bleak despair the film is a propulsive combination of visual and aural attention-getters. The urban landscape is illuminated with neon-lit rage as Julia’s quest for revenge moves her through the night accompanied by a beat-filled score.
The film moves around slightly via flashbacks or time spent with other characters, but Julia remains the focus through most of its running time. It’s a relief then to discover that Williams is more than capable of holding our attention and interest as the put upon but highly capable protagonist. We can’t help but empathize with her situation, and that serves to make her later actions more troubling.
Julia isn’t a game-changer in its chosen sub-genre, but it’s a solid entry that understands the desire for a more entertaining darkness. And if including a Lady Snowblood reference means someone new will discover the joys of Toshiya Fujita’s revenge classic then even better.