Tuesday, January 16, 2018
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Atomic Blonde does not live up to its giant movie poster hype

Beware of movies spending money selling one scene, like the Atomic Blonde poster big enough to block a restroom entry, as it has for a while at AMC Westshore 14.

The restroom is out of order. Atomic Blonde overall doesn't work, either.

The display rightly celebrates a scene in which Charlize Theron as an MI6 agent in Cold War Berlin mops up a multistory stairwell with numerous men intent on returning the favor. Director David Leitch, a stunts ace who turned Keanu Reeves into John Wick, plays the maim game well, spinning the illusion of a single unbroken shot for nearly eight minutes.

We get guns, knives and what drive-in icon Joe Bob Briggs would call hot plate fu and corkscrew fu. All set to A Flock of Seagulls' I Ran as survivors stagger out to the street.

Bravo. Now, what else you got?

Not much, chiefly a humorless mix of lesser violent interludes interrupted by lukewarm John le Carré with double crosses doubling back and flash forwards explaining what's going on. Theron lets her kicky monochrome wardrobe do her emoting unless she's going Keanu, or naked for necro-festishy ice cube baths and a tryst with a French agent (Sofia Boutella).

Tinker, tailor, soldier, babes. Not a good look for a poster.

Atomic Blonde is set days before the Berlin Wall comes down, starting with the triple-tap murder (two car slams, one bullet) of an MI6 agent carrying a covert dossier. His Russian killer takes the McGuffin hidden in a wristwatch, keeping it for black market profit rather than handing it over to the KGB.

Cut to 10 days later when a severely bruised Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is interrogated about how she got that way by a superior (Toby Hall) and a CIA agent (John Goodman). Their verbal parries always lead to flashbacks or Lorraine glaring through a two-way mirror at the MI6 eavesdropper she blames for something fishy but we'll wait a long time to know what.

Lorraine was connected with an embedded agent (James McAvoy) who's gone rogue as East Berlin changes, selling Western contraband like Jack Daniels and Hustler magazines. Theron and McAvoy's edgy chemistry gets little time to develop while Kurt Johnstad's screenplay crochets a plot that needn't be so complex.

Atomic Blonde is a rare case of a woman toplining an action flick, but it hardly feels revolutionary. Aside from the fact that Lorraine's sexual diversion from danger is a woman, the character, her path and icy menace could be any male action star. Well, men aren't prone to the same level of on-screen nudity and sexual expression. Makes you wonder if Atomic Blonde is feminist, or just another male fantasy.

Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela keep things visually interesting with various shades of Cold War gray invaded by decadent Neon Demon optics as East Berlin's politics were then. Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir's editing is crisply definable in action mode, static to a fault when people talk.

Atomic Blonde sounds like a million bucks in royalty fees, a playlist of 80's techno-pop and forbidden fruits just being plucked by Berliners. Sometimes plot details are lost because they're spoken over Der Kommissar or some other distracting ditty. George Michael is music to kick butts by; David Bowie's gasoline classic Cat People keeps healing.

Lorraine's final exposure and dispatching of the traitor behind everything is the movie's narrative low. That is, until we see what occurs afterward, a piling on of double cross that dashes whatever good will remains by then. I'd share more about being disappointed in Atomic Blonde but there isn't a poster big enough.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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