Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin, Tom Davis
Written by: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use
Running Time: 90
Date: 04/21/2017

Free Fire (2017)

1 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Gun Nuts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Obviously inspired by Quentin Tarantino's movies, as well as QT's favorite 1970s shoot-em-ups, this action movie tries to be stripped down and clever, but it only succeeds at being laughably violent.

In Free Fire, it's the 1970s, and several criminals assemble in a warehouse to complete a weapons sale. Vernon (Sharlto Copley) is the seller, Chris (Cillian Murphy) is the buyer, and the supercool Ord (Armie Hammer) is negotiating. Justine (Brie Larson) is also on board, as well as several hired thugs.

Unfortunately, one of the thugs, Harry (Jack Reynor) recognizes another one of the thugs, Stevo (Sam Riley), from a bar fight the night before; Stevo mistreated Harry's cousin, and though Stevo got a beating out of it, Harry isn't quite through with his revenge. Eventually shots are fired, and from there on out, it's more or less continuous shooting. Some unexpected snipers even show up. But no matter who started it, will anyone survive long enough to stop it?

Directed by Ben Wheatley (High-Rise), Free Fire is all 1970s outfits (big collars and lapels, facial hair, tight pants and polyester), and loud gun sounds. Though the warehouse is an interesting setting (cribbed, clearly, from Reservoir Dogs), Wheatly fails to establish the spatial locations of the characters. When someone fires in one shot and someone else screams in the next, we have no idea where they were aiming, or where anyone else is.

Soon, everyone hits the floor, and everyone is all dust-and-blood-and-hair covered figures, crawling on the ground, barely distinguishable from one another. Occasionally it looks as if something clever will happen, such as when the characters discover a working phone in the office, but these things only result in more shooting.

The dialogue tries to be witty, but the only thing that clicks is when a character occasionally gives up and simply laughs at the absurdity. Whereas John Wick and the recent John Wick: Chapter 2 took violence to such an astoundingly high-pitched level that they became almost existential, Free Fire is far too aware of itself to make any such claims.

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