1.5 stars (out of 4)
What a missed opportunity. Now, when it comes to the ridiculous mess that is The Rhythm Section, I could be referring to the fact that the film squanders the talents of Blake Lively, Jude Law and Sterling K. Brown. Or that it fails to launch a potentially exciting female-led action franchise. I’m talking about the title! It’s technically a nod to the notion that an assassin’s body and mind should work like a finely tuned instrument. So obtuse. That’s why I shall call it by its more sensible name: The Girl in the Hideous Wigs.
Her name is Stephanie Patrick, and she’s pointing a gun in the back of a stranger’s head in some hideout the first time we see her. Stephanie (Lively) looks ragged and mighty peeved. The wig is pure pageboy Supercuts. How and why is she there? The Rhythm Section can’t be bothered to deal with logic or coherence. We only get a wordless flashback to confirm that Stephanie used to be happy. She lived with her loving family in England. Everybody smiled. Her hair was blonde and fluffy.
Then tragedy struck. Stephanie’s family, along with hundreds of others, were killed in an airplane crash over the Atlantic. An unfortunate accident, per the official report. It wasn’t. She makes it her mission to dig for the truth and seek vengeance upon whoever was responsible for this heinous act. To do so requires help. Enter a former MI-6 agent (Law), who trains her to be a killing machine. A man with CIA ties (Brown) serves as a contact. She soon takes on the identity of a woman named Petra and unleashes her version of fury.
That was the linear version of events. The jittery narrative in The Rhythm Section jumps around from past (three years) to recent past (eight months) to in-the-moment — though all the current talk about the importance of newspaper headlines is pure 1990. Never does it stop long enough for audiences to learn the basics. As in, why Stephanie and only Stephanie takes it upon herself to investigate the crash. Federal authorities are MIA, as are almost all the other surviving relatives. And at what point in her grieving did our heroine muse to herself, “Hey, even though I’m physically and mentally inexperienced, I want to be the lanky version of Jason Bourne.”
If you saw Lively in the sublime A Simple Favor back in 2018, then you know the actress is more than capable of selling a bonkers premise (which is based on Mark Burnell’s “Stephanie Patrick” series of novels). But she’s visibly uncomfortable as a merciless British contract killer going undercover and physically chasing down the bad guys. Sticking a gun in an Islamic radical terrorist’s backside on a crowded bus and demanding “Where’s the detonator?!” just does not play to her skillset.
And yet, no actress on Earth could have done wonders with glum material that’s been spliced and diced one too many times in the editing room and looks as if it had the budget of a student film.
The action sequences — extended car chases, of course — are dark and grainy. Though Stephanie travels from London to Tangier to New York City to Marseilles, the locations aren’t distinguishable. The drama is style-free and tension-free and jumping out of your seat because a car explodes at a decibel level that would scare large dogs doesn’t count. However, there is unintentional comedy in the form of a half-baked training montage between Law and Lively that could have been passed for a Rocky or Creed spoof. When she demands how much longer until she’s a good-to-go assassin, he snaps “when menopause is a distant memory.”
I can’t speak to anyone’s estrogen levels. The good news is that The Girl in the Hideous Wigs (i.e., The Rhythm Section) itself is a distant memory. Forget that Stephanie is teed up to take on more missions and do justice her way. This franchise needs to be hair today, gone tomorrow.
The Rhythm Section is out Friday, January 31.