The Gray Man (2022)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 1/11/13
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jessica Henwick, Billy Bob Thornton, Dhanush, Regé-Jean Page, Julia Butters

"An extra ten million to the first guy to put a bullet in this Ken doll's brain."

Sierra Six (Ryan Gosling) is part of an elite team of CIA operatives that's so secret that only a handful of people at the agency know that they exist. When an operation goes bad and Six ends up with some dirty secrets about his superiors, a sociopathic contract killer named Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) is hired to take him out and recover the incriminating evidence. CIA agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) is wrongly accused of aiding Six, and eventually does end up helping him when she realizes what's going on and that she's a target as well. At the center of everything is Six's mentor's niece, Claire (Julia Butters), who is kidnapped by Lloyd as leverage and collateral, which is what motivates Six and Dani to go above and beyond the call of duty.

It's an overly ambitious, but generic and by-the-numbers action film that works only due to the strength of its strong and attractive cast. A stoic Ryan Gosling makes an effective, believable, and sympathetic hero, whose sharp focus, strength of will, and a whole lot of luck keep him alive long enough to reach Lloyd's fortified base of operations. Chris Evans tears through the scenery with insane glee in his douchiest role yet. Everything about him is repulsive: the hair, the skinny pegged pants, the loafers, the too-tight polo shirts, and the hilariously awful moustache (reminiscent of Colin Farrell's in "Ava" (2020)), not to mention his loathsome personality and deplorable behavior. I think he might have had a little too much fun with this role... Ana de Armas is delightful as always, although she suffers from some truly hideous wardrobe choices. However, she has several wonderful action scenes that help you get over that, including a fantastic fight between her, Gosling, and Dhanush. After her all-too-brief appearance in "No Time To Die" (2021), I love that she's been able to continue honing her action persona. Regé-Jean Page is excellent as a manipulative and menacing villain who works behind the scenes, while Jessica Henwick is woefully underutilized in a supporting role. And finally, Julia Butters does a great job as a helpless and overwhelmed teenager who emotionally ties everything together.

Overall, it feels like a lesser "Bourne" film that's high on spectacle, but weak and derivative in the story department. Apart from a few clever lines, the dialog is flimsy and forgettable. The first half fumbles with awkward pacing and disjointed set pieces, and the fight scenes suffer from disruptive drop-frame editing. The gratuitous drone shots and overwrought CGI scenes drag the film down, but it finally finds a nice groove in the second half, allowing things to move more fluidly and with purpose. The excessive gunplay can become tiresome, but the film does a good job of mixing things up with car chases, foot chases, hand-to-hand combat, explosions, and other harrowing stunts. It's definitely a male-centric film that's overflowing with testosterone and sweat, but the women do a good job of holding their own and are never compromised. In the end, it's a fun actioner with enjoyable performances and exciting set pieces, but don't go into it looking for anything deeper.

While the Ken doll meta-reference is a well-placed zinger, my second favorite line would have to be Jessica Henwick saying, "I'll gladly punch you in the dick the next time I see you." Sadly, she doesn't follow through with this, unless it happened off-camera.

And two curious entries in the credits:
   American Human Representative
   Creature Effects

First of all, "American Human Representative?" WTF is that? And creature effects? This isn't a sci-fi film. There were no creatures in it. The only possibility would be one scene where a monkey knocks the lid off of a trash can, but there was also a monkey trainer listed in the credits, so that doesn't seem like a plausible candidate. Weird. A couple other job titles struck me as odd, but they have already slipped from my mind.