A fruitful exercise in genre, the sort of flick that might have a healthy shelf life on Netflix.
While there’s not much to Unlocked that couldn’t be gleaned from a cursory viewing of the trailer, it still winds up a fruitful exercise in genre, the sort of flick that might have a healthy shelf life on Netflix as the “ugh, fine” compromise between a squabbling, infinitely scrolling pair of lovers on a night in. It’s brisk, engaging and well-executed enough to balance out the fact that, on paper, this is little more than an action-thriller madlib constituted from pieces and beats from other films with a few topical details plugged in for maximum relevance.
Noomi Rapace stars as Alice Racine, a “damaged goods” CIA interrogator with a massive chip on her shoulder over cracking a suspect too late to prevent a terrorist attack in Paris. Those deaths eat away at her every day in her new cover job, working in the UK for governmental employment services to keep her ear to ground for suspicious rumbling related to brown people packed into flats. Every day, Alice pesters section chief Emily Knowles (Toni Collette) with new leads that never pan out, all the while dodging her mentor (Michael Douglas) and his pleas to get her back into the field. Finally, a hero’s call to action arrives in the form of a suitably complex scheme regarding an American jihadist, the Imam he seeks guidance from and the courier sent to deliver a message between the two.
Alice is brought in to “unlock” the apprehended courier for the CIA before he can give what they believe to be an order for a terrorist attack to the jihadist, but she discovers quickly that all is not what it seems. Double crossed with no one to trust save for Iraq vet turned petty thief Jack Alcott (Orlando Bloom), Alice has to get to the bottom of a byzantine plot, tripping and stumbling over twists and turns telegraphed so broadly they may as well have been communicated in semaphore. In a lesser film, this would be a laughably predictable piece of popcorn fluff, but thanks to a strong cast and a lean script, Unlocked is actually kind of a fun romp.
Well, as fun as a movie about terrorism can really be, right? The fight and chase scenes are all framed with a workmanlike coherence by genre vet Michael Apted, hewing closer to coherence than stylized extravagance, but each bit of action is doled out at exactly the right moments. The set pieces are paced with a consistency that would make Roger Corman proud. There’s a few cloying diversions from this straightforward approach, namely a frustrating use of jarring flashbacks early on to illustrate Alice’s demons. But it’s otherwise unfussy and deliberate, something few other films in this segment these days can muster.
Honestly, though, it’s the players that make the film worthwhile. Rapace continues to be one of the best lead actresses in the game, especially with threadbare action roles like this one that provide her blank slates to imbue with all manner of pathos and heart. Douglas and Collette are both appropriately impressive, but the two real scene-stealers are John Malkovich as a CIA higher-up who just wants to wrap this case up and get back to his wife for their anniversary and Bloom, playing against type just enough to shed some of his pretty boy image without looking like a try-hard. They’re all so expert in their individual roles that it doesn’t feel offensive when every single foreshadowed twist comes to fruition in the most obvious way possible.
The film is open-ended enough to suggest a sequel, but it’s unlikely a film this low-aiming will connect enough to start a franchise. But everything doesn’t have to be a test for a new series, and Unlocked gets enough right to forgive the parts where it settled for “good enough.”