‘The Gray Man,’ bloated and brain-dead, wastes money, talent and your time
A high-wattage cast headed by Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans plays out all the hackneyed cliches of ’80s action movies.
They should have just called him “The Cliché Man.”
The bloated, bombastic and brain-dead Netflix actioner “The Gray Man” is a depressingly formulaic waste of the talents of the Russo Brothers and the A-list cast — and a complete waste of 2 hours and 2 minutes of your time, unless you’re content to hit the “Recline” button on your theater seat, soak in the exotic locations, jam your arm into a bucket o’ popcorn and laugh at the hackneyed, cartoonishly violent and utterly ridiculous idiocy of the entire exercise.
To be sure, we understand that Joe and Anthony Russo of MCU mega-success and their all-star ensemble are perfectly aware they’re making a 21st century version of a 1980s action movie, complete with rogue anti-heroes and nefarious government operatives and easily disposable uniformed cops and anonymous henchmen — but just because you’re practically winking at the camera doesn’t mean you’re delivering satisfying entertainment.
Netflix presents a film directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Joe Russo, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the novel by Mark Greaney. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of strong violence, and strong language). Running time: 129 minutes. Opens Thursday in local theaters and available July 22 on Netflix.
I mean, in the name of all things holy, can we PLEASE make it something other than an Incriminating flash drive that has everyone racing all over the world, jumping out of planes, blowing up town squares and engaging in all manner of gunfights, fistfights and grenade fights just to gain possession of the device? Make it a Maltese Falcon or a priceless NFT or a seat on the next Jeff Bezos ride into space or Obi-Wan Kenobi’s original light saber or a Subway card good for a free sandwich, I don’t know. Anything but the stupid flash drive!
All right, let’s go through the paces of this thing, which is the most expensive Netflix movie ever made with a reported budget of some $200 million, even more than the equally, forgettable, star-studded “Red Notice.” (Quick, who was in that one? No worries if you can’t remember; I’m sure Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds have already put it behind them as well.) In a variation on the ol’ “Get Out of Jail Free Card” plot in which hardcore prisoners can gain their freedom in exchange for agreeing to do some serious wet work (see “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Suicide Squad,” et al.,) CIA operative Donald Fitzroy (hey, it’s good to see Billy Bob Thornton) meets with convicted murderer Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) in prison in 2003 and says that given how Court has already killed one bad guy, it wouldn’t be that difficult for him to do it again, multiple times, as a trained assassin for the agency’s super-secret “Sierra Program.” (Gee, that’s some sophisticated recruiting method.)
Cut to some 18 years later, and our anti-hero, now known as Sierra Six, has racked up a historically impressive number of kills, as one associate puts it. The paternal Fitzroy has been put out to pasture, and Six now answers to the ethically slippery and ruthlessly efficient Denny Carmichael (Regé-Jean Page, wearing glasses from the Chris Hemsworth “Spiderhead” collection designed to downplay his looks and make us forget “Bridgerton”). When a mission in Bangkok goes sideways and Six takes possession of the aforementioned flash drive, well, Six just doesn’t know whom to trust! Cue the globe-trotting sequences as the Russo Brothers demonstrate their undeniable ability to stage gigantic action pieces with loads of practical effects (and no doubt some CGI) and bombs bursting in air.
Now let’s take a look at some of the fine actors who are saddled with one-dimensional caricature roles. Chris Evans, sporting a cheesy mustache and Banlon shirts that make him look like a cigarette print ad model from 1970, is one Lloyd Hansen, who was drummed out of the CIA after just a few months due to being a bat-bleep crazy sociopath — but he’s hired to take out Six because he can summon an army of anonymous henchmen at a moment’s notice and will stop at nothing to complete the kill.
Ana de Armas is the CIA operative Dani Miranda, who becomes a reluctant partner of sorts to Six. The Tamil cinema star Dhanush has a few good moments but is mostly wasted in a relatively minor role as another killer for hire. Jessica Henwick from “Game of Thrones” and “The Matrix Resurrections” is Denny’s colleague and damage control specialist, Suzanne Brewer, whose main function is to keep yelling about how insane it is for Denny and Lloyd to be blowing up everything in sight during a supposedly covert operation. They’re all trying very hard but pedaling a bicycle to nowhere.
In shameless grabs for sentimentality, the screenplay also gives us Alfre Woodard as a counterintelligence chief who is dying and apparently has been waiting around so she can make one last heroic gesture; Julia Butters (the kid who was so good in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) as Fitzroy’s niece, Claire, who’s been raised by her uncle since her parents were killed and oh by the way she has a pacemaker and a thing for the obscure single “Silver Bird” by Mark Lindsay from 1970, and a well-known character actor who has about five seconds of screen time as Six’s abusive father in a heavy-handed flashback.
This brings us to arguably the dumbest thing in a movie that seems to pride itself on being mindless. With so many shootouts resulting in so many casualties taking place in so many public arenas, the whole point of the Incriminating flash drive has been rendered moot, as the entire world can see what’s happening. Six and Lloyd and Dani and the rest of the bunch keep on battling well past the point where it makes any kind of sense, even in this dopey universe. I almost started to miss “Red Notice.”