“There is a place like no other on Earth … to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter.” – Margot Robbie’s Annie in “Terminal.”
With lines like that, it’s not as if the lurid and highly stylized and neon-noir “Terminal” isn’t announcing itself as a derivative B-movie borrowing elements from pop culture touchstones ranging from old-timey gangster films of the 1940s and 1950s to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to “Pulp Fiction” to “Sin City” to “Blade Runner” to certain films by Brian De Palma and Guy Ritchie.
This is a dark and bloody and mind-bending trip, alternately fascinating and ridiculous, featuring some bold and outrageous plot twists, and juicy performances from one of the more eclectic casts you’ll see in a film in 2018.
We’re talking Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Matthew Lewis from the “Harry Potter” films — and Mike Myers playing one of the sickest sickos in recent memory.
Oh, and one of the aforementioned has a dual role, and let’s just leave it at that.
Every year, we get a handful of movies that have a legit shot at appearing on some “Best of the Year” lists and some “Worst of the Year” lists.
“Terminal” is just that kind of movie.
Robbie plays Annie, a waitress at a diner in a train station that has the vibe of a passageway to another dimension. Annie has the look and demeanor of a femme fatale in a murder mystery, and you wouldn’t be wrong if you guessed she’s manipulating everyone who happens into the diner in the shifting timeline of the multiple storylines.
Storylines that will of course eventually intertwine.
Annie is pursuing a larger mission only she can envision. The men she encountered? Arrogant as they might be, confident as they might feel in their position, they’re all potential patsies in Annie’s master plan. They never even see it coming.
Alfred (Max Irons) and Vince (Dexter Fletcher) are a couple of hitmen awaiting instructions from their mysterious boss about their next assignment. Bill (Simon Pegg, in perhaps the film’s best performance) is a professor contemplating suicide.
“You want my advice?” says Annie to Bill. “Just … end it. There are more ways to end your life than there are ways to live it.”
“And my immortal soul?” asks Bill.
“Overrated,” says Annie.
Meanwhile, Mike Myers shuffles about the station as a hunchbacked janitor who clearly has more significance beyond those literal clean-up duties. Myers delivers a bizarrely effective performance in which his vocal tics seem to be referencing one of his most iconic comedic characters, even as he’s playing a severely twisted sociopath.
Writer-director Vaughn Stein paints “Terminal” in splashy, arresting visuals. His characters speak in movie-talk, trading catchy one-liners that would sound ludicrous in a real-life conversation (and sometimes even sound ludicrous within the context of this heightened live-action cartoon of a world).
The final 15 minutes or so of “Terminal” are flat-out nutso. One can imagine Robbie, Myers et al., breaking into laughter after hearing “Cut!” — not out of disrespect for the material, but out of sheer giddiness for having the opportunity to try something so audacious.
Even when it doesn’t work, “Terminal” is a film with never a dull moment.
RLJE Films presents a film written and directed by Vaughn Stein. No MPAA rating. Running time: 90 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC Woodridge and on demand.