'Unlocked': Film Review

The Boring Ultimatum.

Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom and Michael Douglas lead the starry cast in this London-set action thriller from former 007 director Michael Apted.

There must surely be a gap in the market for a female-led spy thriller series in the James Bond or Jason Bourne mode. Alas, Unlocked is not the film to launch that franchise, despite sticking firmly within genre conventions. A little too firmly, arguably. Despite a starry international cast headed by Noomi Rapace, Orlando Bloom, Toni Collette and Michael Douglas, this functional contemporary spy yarn is played way too straight by 76-year-old British director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough), who brings nothing fresh to the formula besides the minor innovation of dropping an action heroine into a male-dominated field.

That said, the timely plot about Islamist terror attacks on the streets of London and Paris will add a newsworthy angle to the film's marketing. Unlocked has already sold widely across multiple territories, and makes its U.K. theatrical debut later this week, with a U.S. release scheduled for September. Globally, the largely conservative groundswell of undemanding action-thriller fanboys will likely deliver respectable box-office numbers, but do not put money on a sequel.

Rapace plays Alice Racine, a hotshot CIA agent working deep undercover in a grungy East London neighborhood where Islamist terror groups are known to operate. Still haunted by a Paris bomb massacre that she failed to prevent, Alice tells her former agency boss (Douglas) that she is wary of returning to active duty. But when an imminent large-scale attack involving Russian biological weapons suddenly looks likely, she grudgingly bows to pressure to help interrogate a key suspect. Then all hell breaks loose.

A few treacherous twists later, Alice is on the run from a spectacular bloodbath, dodging furtively past tourist-friendly London landmarks with both U.K. and U.S. intelligence agents on her tail. A chance meeting with a hunky ex-marine turned wise-cracking house burglar (Bloom) provides her with an unlikely ally, while the sassy head of MI5 (Collette) also offers ambivalent support. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, a sardonic CIA chief (John Malkovich) monitors her progress suspiciously. As Alice races against time to foil the bio-terror attack, it starts to feel like everybody is playing a double or even triple game.

In theory, Unlocked is a noble attempt to forge a female counterpart to Bourne or Bond. But in reality, it is seriously hobbled by a creaky script and clumsy performances. Apted has a respectable track record, but he can do little to energize a groaningly familiar Frankenplot that seems to have been patched together from half a dozen equally forgettable movies and depends on a string of increasingly implausible double-cross twists instead of generating its own innate dramatic tension. The apocalyptic bio-terror attack, an oddly amateurish scheme hatched by a handful of unhinged hardliners with poorly explained motives, is also fatally low on suspense. It even climaxes with one of those frantic race-against-time countdowns that long ago jumped the shark from action thriller staple to Austin Powers-level parody.

Rapace has the kick-ass moves, but her low-voltage performance is too waxy and blank for a lead role. Sporting tattoos and a man-bun, Bloom makes a comically off-target bid to rebrand himself as a Jason Statham-type hard man, barking cod-Dickensian lines in a cartoonish mockney accent that will grate with many Brit viewers. Meanwhile, Malkovich gives yet another of those withering, aloof, borderline-camp turns designed to let us know he is way too good for such lowbrow material. And yet he took the paycheck anyway.

Still, at least Douglas brings a dash of reliable old-school heft, even in this kind of late-career slumming role, while Collette radiates twinkly androgynous mischief with her peroxide punkette buzzcut and cut-glass English accent. At least somebody is having fun with this otherwise grindingly self-serious exercise in pedestrian pulp, which should have been much more of a guillty pleasure than it turned out to be.

To its credit, Unlocked delivers a smattering of modestly gripping action sequences and takes cameras into some of the shabby, impoverished, multi-racial corners of non-swinging London that are seldom seen onscreen. Admittedly, cheaper Prague locations stand in for London at times, but only eagle-eyed locals will spot the discrepancies. Bridesmaid finally becomes bride in the final coda, where Prague briefly gets to play itself, while Peter O'Brien's open-ended screenplay makes a brazen pitch for a sequel. Dream on.

Production company: Di Bonaventura Pictures
Distributor: Lionsgate
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Douglas, Toni Collette, Orlando Bloom, John Malkovich, Tosin Cole
Director: Michael Apted
Screenplay: Peter O’Brien
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Claudia Bleumhuber, Georgina Townsley, Erik Howsam
Cinematographer: George Richmond
Editor: Andrew MacRitchie
Production designer: Ondrej Nekvasil
Music: Stephen Barton

128 minutes