On paper, Gunpowder Milkshake seems like assuredly awesome women-led action. A cast stacked with new genre favorites and major mainstays, a promised up-and-coming director whose previous feature was a visceral surprise, a well-trodden formula with a sleek vivid style. Unfortunately, despite a plethora of promising elements, the movie only manages to coalesce into an awkward reflection of other popular action movies.

When Deadpool’s R-rated superhero antics exploded into a huge success, there was a fear of studios learning the wrong lessons, only replicating its surface strengths. Gunpowder Milkshake comes across a movie realizing that concern but instead drawing from movies like John Wick and Kingsman, as well as the other needle-drop-heavy hyper-stylized hits of the last decade.

Wick moreso than others, as director Navot Papushado spends much of the first act establishing an anachronistic euphemistic underworld where everyone has a history and an esoteric hierarchy exists. Instead of a hotel with neutral no-business rules, it’s a diner. Instead of a gunsmith sommelier, a larger chunk of the film occurs within a library that serves as an arsenal for gun-concealed books. The story dives into this neon-noir world through the eyes of Sam (Karen Gillan), a top assassin working for The Firm. If the aesthetic and gunplay-infused martial arts recall John Wick, then the heightened comic tone recalls a bubblegum Shoot-‘Em-Up; Paul Giamatti showing up as Sam’s callous Firm handler only cements those vibes.

A chain of events involving a kidnapped daughter (Chloe Coleman) and a crime boss’ dead son leads to a night of brawls, sieges, dual-wielding guns and henchmen pursuit. Unfolding with a jagged pace, Gunpowder Milkshake oscillates between hitman heroics and a surprising knack for action comedy. There’s a section mid-film where Gillan has a gun and knife taped to her paralyzed arms, fighting a trio of hobbled goons using her body’s momentum and limp limbs. During those brief minutes of inspired combat slapstick, the film’s tone and spectacle threaten to become something inventive and different. A cooperative car-chase inside a parking garage follows, another goofy and creative sequence that seemed to imply an escalation of absurdity.

But those scenes prove to be anomalies amid Gunpowder Milkshake’s increasingly frustrating runtime and set-pieces. At worst, the confrontations are so clunkily choreographed and jarringly edited that the clumsy rhythm of the action seems deliberate. At best, Gunpowder Milkshake indulges in slick murder vignettes with splashes of digital blood and fun weaponry like knife-augmented pistols. The excessive stylization recalls the films of Wright or Vaughn, yet the execution ends up remarkably turgid and lacking; this is a two-hour movie that doesn’t start to come together until around the 40-minute mark. The script comes across as more concerned with self-aware look-how-cool-this-is world-building than with story, and every intense sequence is slow-mo-stretched to the point of exhaustion.

Even the inclusion of Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, and Michelle Yeoh as battle-ready librarians can’t electrify the spectacle. (Casting Michelle Yeoh, then barely letting her unleash her physicality and editing around her choreography, has to be some sort of action movie sin.) If the characters or narrative balanced out the weaker elements, Papushado‘s hitman adventure could have coasted on snappy banter or thriller twists. Yet the script gives the cast nothing to work with beyond the most generic hitman-movie cliches. Lena Heady enters the story opposite Gillian as her previous-generation assassin mother, but their bond feels nonexistent, driven more by actor chemistry than character dynamics.

Thankfully the chemistry and committed performances of the cast carries Gunpowder Milkshake when its other facets falter. In the lead Karen Gillan is charismatic, energetic, radiating a confident swagger that balances well with Headey’s more pragmatic vulnerability. Fresh off her pairing with Bautista in My Spy, the young Chloe Coleman practically steals the show again here, bringing a spunky cool and witty comic timing to the film. Giamatti brings some welcome weaselly attitude, while Ralph Ineson injects his usual gravelly menace. It’s a uniformly awesome cast, and they absolutely carry the film through its pacing dips.

Yet no amount of Gillan swagger, Lena Headey murdering guys with gun-knives or Angela Bassett doing her best “Raid 2’s Hammer Girl” impression could save Gunpowder Milkshake. The film’s stars undoubtedly had a blast with the Wick/Woo-influence ass-kicking, but they deserved a much better vehicle than this.

Summary
No amount of Karen Gillan swagger, Lena Headey murdering guys with gun-knives or Angela Bassett doing her best “Raid 2’s Hammer Girl” impression can save this.
30 %
AWKWARD WICK?
  • Big Bad Wolves

    [xrr rating=2.75/5]Last summer, Pedro Almodóvar made minor waves with a scene from I’m So …
  • Kandisha

    This familiar yet effective tale of supernatural terror is on-brand for Maury and Bustillo…
  • From the Vaults of Streaming Hell: From the Dark

    Conor McMahon delivers tense monster thrills that escalate till the end credits, a precise…
  • Meander

    As a minimal exercise in claustrophobic suspense and deadly problem-solving, Meander is a …
  • Kandisha

    This familiar yet effective tale of supernatural terror is on-brand for Maury and Bustillo…
  • From the Vaults of Streaming Hell: Heidi 4 Paws

    You want Lynchian resonance in the talking-dog adaptation of a beloved children’s book? Ha…
  • Settlers

    Writer and director Wyatt Rockefeller nails some qualities of classic Westerns in his feat…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Kandisha

This familiar yet effective tale of supernatural terror is on-brand for Maury and Bustillo…