You want to know the story of the title character in “Ava?” Well, sit right down, and you’ll hear a tale, all in the opening credits. Ready?
Ava was a star athlete and an honors student and had great promise, but she also liked to party, and then she got a DUI after a terrible crash, so it was time for redemption, and that’s when Ava joined the Army, where she kicked ass as a Special Ops soldier on missions such as “Operation Mongoose,” but, even though she was given an honorable discharge ,there were questions about Ava’s “high intensity” and the probability she’d have “difficulty in civilian life,” and sure enough Ava went off the grid and became an assassin who charges around $75,000 per kill — and she’s really good at her job, as we saw in the prologue BEFORE the very helpful opening credits.
Whew! “Ava” stars the wonderful Jessica Chastain as an assassin living in a “Bourne” knockoff world. John Malkovich is her mentor Duke, who actually tells Ava, “Yours is not to reason why, yours is to do or die. Colin Farrell plays Simon, Duke’s pet assassin before Ava. Diana Silvers is Simon’s daughter, who’s following in dad’s footsteps(!). Jess Wexler plays Ava’s sister Jude, Geena Davis is her mom, and there’s also Common as Michael, who’s with Jude but used to be with Ava, so they have that in Common. (Dad joke alert!)
After dispatching a high-level Brit financier in Paris (she likes to ask her targets what they did to warrant someone putting a hit on them), Ava returns home to Boston to recharge her batteries. She reconnects with sister Jude, who chastises her for missing dad’s funeral (“I haven’t seen you for eight years!”) and informs Ava their mother is in the hospital.
Then, they start bickering about Michael.
Meanwhile, someone’s put a hit on Ava, so that’s complicating things, and it’s time for some more serviceable but routine shootout stuff.
We know from Chastain’s work on films ranging from “Zero Dark Thirty” to “Molly’s Game” that she can play a savvy badass, and she’s terrific as the world-weary, ruthlessly efficient but deeply troubled Ava. Her performance is easily the best thing in a by-the-numbers B movie with an A-list cast.
As the plot grows increasingly convoluted and borderline laughable, Chastain is steady as she goes, playing a character who’s worthy of a film franchise in a movie nowhere near deserving a sequel. Odds are we’ll never see Ava again, and that’s a shame because, with a better script and more inspired direction, she could have been a contender.