Combustible Celluloid Review - The Collective (2023), Jason James, Matt Roge, Tom DeNucci, Lucas Till, Tyrese Gibson, Don Johnson, Mercedes Varnado, Paul Ben-Victor, Ruby Rose
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lucas Till, Tyrese Gibson, Don Johnson, Mercedes Varnado, Paul Ben-Victor, Ruby Rose
Written by: Jason James, Matt Roge
Directed by: Tom DeNucci
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 86
Date: 08/04/2023

The Collective (2023)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Coming Apart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite some attempts to liven up this routine action movie, the result is too stuck in mindless mediocrity, lazy short cuts, awkward performances, and inferior, incomprehensible fight footage.

We meet Sam (Lucas Till), who sneaks into a house, takes down several masked gunmen, shoots his eventual target, and snaps a picture, all super-spy style. It's actually a test; Sam is being recruited as a member of "The Collective," an organization that operates out from under government bureaucracy and gets things done. The leader, Liam (Don Johnson), immediately assigns Sam to a desk job, much to Sam's dismay.

Meanwhile, a hacker-turned-whistleblower has been captured by a notorious human trafficker, Miro (Paul Ben-Victor), who plans to auction him to the highest bidder. Experienced agent Hugo (Tyrese Gibson) tries to get to the whistleblower but fails. Apparently, the villains have intel on the Collective, but they don't have intel on rookie Sam, so he is chosen to for the assignment. Hugo gives Sam a quick training session, which is interrupted by a squad of killers, working for Miro. Hugo is stabbed and Sam escapes. Liam tells Sam to come back in, but Sam realizes that he is the last chance to stop the auction, and must go it alone.

The idea of a secret spy organization sounds fun, but The Collective was probably a bit too ambitious for its budget, and it never feels legit. Don Johnson is well-cast as the cool, seasoned head of the organization, and Tyrese Gibson (no doubt collecting only a tiny fraction of what he earned on Fast X) is believable as top agent Hugo. But Till — who gets the majority of screen time — is a pretty bland action hero. Ben-Victor tries to make Miro an interesting villain by playing him like a Vegas song-and-dance man, but it's finally just an odd choice. And, as Miro's henchwomen, Ruby Rose and (real-life pro wrestler) Mercedes Varnado are both quite stiff. (Rose, who is second-billed for some reason, has a dinky, almost nonexistent role.)

The action is hard to follow and repetitive, and it's hard to shake the feeling that the filmmakers are spending too much energy trying to cover up a minuscule budget. (There are one too many drone shots.) We also get one too many head-shaking moments, like Sam trying to infiltrate the auction wearing an earpiece — he claims that it's a hearing aid! — when he's supposed to be going solo. In the end, The Collective had potential, but it just doesn't hold together.

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