There's been a lot of talk about who should be the next James Bond after Daniel Craig puts aside his shaken martini. Orlando Bloom? Idris Elba? Damian Lewis? After watching the formulaic spy thriller "Unlocked," might we suggest Noomi Rapace?
The actress, who rose to prominence in the original film adaptations of the Stieg Larsson novels — "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," ''The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" — now finds herself in a movie that could be called "The Girl at the Center of a Twisty-Turvy Global Terrorist Conspiracy Where No One Can Be Trusted, Even That Nice Guy Who Just Saved You From Killers."
Rapace drinks only water and beds no one in "Unlocked ," but she exudes the same steely deadliness of 007, his intelligence and resourcefulness. She can shoot guns with both hands, do impressive martial arts moves, speak many languages, quietly slice you open with a knife and, in one scene, is absolutely lethal with, of all things, a folded beach chair.
"Tell me the target," she says steadily and menacingly at one moment, as humourless and driven as Craig's Bond. "I want to know how you got this intel," she demands in another scene.
The plot of "Unlocked" is hard to explain without a spreadsheet since it's a never-ending series of double-crosses in the global search for a Middle Eastern-led plan to use a biological weapon far worse than Ebola in London.
British intelligence agents, the CIA and double agents for both agencies suddenly have an urgent need for Rapace, a former top interrogator who failed to stop a Paris terror bombing that killed two dozen people and still lives with the guilt. (Cue the montage of her working out her frustration by assaulting a heavy bag.)
There's a lot of dialogue here spiked with military jargon and spycraft — "Priority red." ''You've been penetrated." ''Aerosolized distribution." ''Suppressor sniper rifle." ''Post-incident de-brief." ''Where's the courier?" ''What's the protocol?" ''MI5 is committing every available asset to this."
It's directed by Michael Apted, who did the same with the 007 "The World Is Not Enough" and some Bond must have rubbed off. Instead of Judi Dench, though, he's got John Malkovich as a sardonic intelligence leader and he's terrific, a gleeful performance like one nasty snarl. Michael Douglas is a welcome addition, too, as an old friend and mentor of Rapace's character.
But less so is another potential Bond heir — Bloom, who plays a mysterious former soldier who is perhaps a love interest or maybe a frenemy. He does neither very well. "I think I'm the only friend you've got," he tells her but can't really pull off the tough-guy hunk thing. (Hint, don't trust any man in this film. Only Toni Collette, as the head of British intelligence, can be trusted. Or can she....?)
"Unlocked" has got all the cliches you need and want: A digital clock reading the 5-minute countdown to utter destruction, the use of haunting Middle Eastern music whenever we see people of Middle Eastern descent (a practice that needs to stop, asap), a scene in which our heroine is dangling over a deep shaft one-handed, a tender moment when her flesh wound is bandaged up by an ex-lover, and a scene when you realize that someone who died is NOT dead at all, which will come as shock to absolutely NO ONE who has ever watched one of these.
Screenwriter Peter O'Brien takes us on visits to London, Paris and the Czech Republic but has made little allowances for having a strong female lead and it's refreshing, whether he intended it or not.
Rapace does break down at one point in tears — something Bonds are loath to do — but she's mostly unflappable throughout, unemotionally watching men she deeply cares about die all around her and inflicting death herself without hesitation. She's as robotic and thinly drawn as any Bond, Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt or John Wick — a haunted, obsessive killing machine.
So, welcome to the club, Rapace.
That's the sound of a suppressor sniper rifle.
"Unlocked," a Lionsgate release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "for violence and language." Running time: 98 minutes. Two stars out of four.
MPAA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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