‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ Causes Serious Brainfreeze (FILM REVIEW)

Rating: C+

There have been no shortages of John Wick knockoffs in recent years. The surprise hit series has caused something of a resurgence in high octane, stylish, assassin thrillers hoping to catch the wake of the Keanu Reeves led series with its blend of glorious violence and fantasy worldbuilding. And, for sure, there’s something innately cool about a world in which assassin roam, and kill, with impunity.

The trouble, of course, is that it’s hard to catch the lightning-in-a-bottle that John Wick had on its release in 2014. Not even its sequels managed to pull it off with the same sense of style and cool as its progenitor. And by now the film market has seen so many of these attempts to recapture the glory that the formula is getting just a little bit tired.

This is probably the biggest speedbump working against Gunpowder Milkshake, though its far from the only. The latest Netflix release feels destined to develop a cult following though, in the grand tradition of modern cult-classics-in-the-making, it doesn’t seem to do much to deserve it. Instead, it feels like a simple rehash of ideas that were done better before filtered through a veneer of glossy pseudo-cool that never manages to fully justify its existence.

Our assassin in this case is Samantha (Karen Gillan) whose mother, Scarlet (Lena Heady), abandoned her 15 years ago after running afoul of some nameless bad guys. In the meantime, Samantha has been raised by Nathan (Paul Giamatti), a member of the mysterious Firm—a kind of faceless assembly of stereotypical baddies who perform any number of stereotypical bad deeds—and trains her for life as an assassin. Like her mother before her, Samantha finds herself on the wrong side of a cliched vendetta after killing the son of the ruthless Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson). To make matters worse, The Firm has turned their back on her after she chose to save the eight (and three quarters) year old Emily (Chloe Coleman) instead of rescuing their money. Now, Samantha must use every assassin trope in the book if she’s going to survive the next few days.

Much of the problem with Gunpowder Milkshake is that it can never quite figure out how to get over its extremely messy first act to make us care about what the rest of the film has to offer. The first 40 minutes of the film don’t twist and turn so much as the stretch and reach, giving us precious little time to know much about who our bad guy is or just how he’s supposed to be terrifying. Sure, we know that, but only because Nathan tells us that he’s terrifying.

Director Navot Papushado doesn’t seem interested in setting his film up so much as he is making it cool. The problem is that his taste is kind of awful, resulting in a film that oozes with a kind of performative cool with no clear intention of trying to be anything else.

Which is a shame because Gillan does seem to have an exciting anti-hero in her. Her performance belies the paint-by-numbers script from Papushado and co-writer Ehud Lavski, which tries so hard to emulate John Wick’s Continental that never bothers coming up with an identity of its own. Even the film’s secondary characters like Heady and the trio of “librarians” (arms dealers) played by Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Carla Gugino seem to desperately hope that their performances can save the movie from its own worst impulses.

They can’t, of course, but not for lack of trying. While admittedly it does find its footing in time for a particularly exciting act three, it’s too little too late for Gunpowder Milkshake. In the end, it’s just another wannabe that can’t quite live up to the better films it tries to emulate.

Gunpowder Milkshake is now available to stream on Netflix.

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