As Super Bowl weekend counterprogramming goes, “The Rhythm Section” is a good argument for watching football. Even a blowout.
This revenge scenario, made up of extremely far-fetched plot developments, is interesting only as a star turn for a thoroughly de-glammed Blake Lively. Otherwise, things are grim.
Lively plays a young woman of many aliases — Stephanie is her real name — whose life collapsed when her family died in a plane crash a couple of years ago. We find her at low ebb, prostituting herself to pay for a drug habit.
When a London journalist arrives and hints that the plane crash was actually a terrorist bombing, Stephanie straightens out. Her determination to get the people responsible for the attack leads her to disguises, wigs and one extremely capable mentor.
The mentor is a mysterious ex-spy (Jude Law, looking bored by it all). He’s alone on his Scottish estate, the perfect place for training montages and combat drills. (I was confused about how isolated this enclave was, and why the bad guys — who gain access to the same intel Stephanie has — couldn’t find the place as easily as our novice heroine.)
The twists and turns come courtesy of a source novel by Mark Burnell, who also adapted the screenplay. It may be of interest to note that producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are longtime custodians of the James Bond franchise; was this film meant to kick off a new series?
Director Reed Morano’s resume includes the feature “I Think We’re Alone Now” and some Emmy-winning episodes of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” There are a couple of standout sequences, especially a brutal hand-to-hand fight between Stephanie and her spy tutor that takes place in a cramped kitchen, as well as a chase sequence through the streets of Tangier during which the camera never leaves the inside of her car.
The movie is more often clumsy and cliched, which keeps it from hitting any kind of stride. It has a bunch of notably ham-fisted musical cues, oldies trotted out at awkward moments. These baffling choices suggest a certain amount of post-production desperation.
Most of the actors are indistinct, although Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”) finds some quirky nuance in his ex-CIA operative, and Raza Jaffrey simmers nicely as the journalist who discovers Stephanie in her hellhole.
Blake Lively, most recently seen strutting through the chic tricks of “A Simple Favor,” gets extremely grungy here. She keeps the character from becoming a superwoman: Stephanie regularly makes mistakes during her lethal adventures, nearly getting herself killed on more than one occasion.
Lively would be a perfectly adept actress for a female quasi-007 series. But given this film’s muddled arrival, that gig might have to wait for a more coherent origin story.
“The Rhythm Section” (2 stars)
A muddled account of a troubled woman (Blake Lively), still grieving the loss of her family in a terrorist attack, who resolves to get the killers by becoming a lethal weapon herself. The movie is too cliched and far-fetched to really click, although Lively is adept at a flawed heroine. With Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown.
Rating: R, for violence
Opening Friday: Alderwood, Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Pacific Place, Seattle 10, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall