Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/17/21
Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Chloe Coleman, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Paul Giamatti, Freya Allan, Mai Duong Kieu

"You are an incredibly impressive young woman. There's not a single person on Earth I'd rather kill people with."

Sam (Karen Gillan) is a very talented young assassin who carries around a massive amount of resentment towards her mother (Lena Headey). Her mom was also a talented assassin, who was forced to abandon Sam as a teenager and go into hiding after avenging the death of her husband and making the Russian mob VERY angry. Since then, Sam has been cared for and employed by a shadowy organization called "The Firm," but when Sam botches a job and kills the wrong man, she's abandoned again and becomes a target herself. A nine-year-old girl named Emily (Chloe Coleman) and a tense reunion with Sam's mother and aunts make things considerably more complicated.

The film was clearly inspired by the world of "John Wick" (2014) with its extravagant structure of organized crime, glamorous portrayal of underworld society, and complex system of honor-based rules and etiquette. The film looks great and the neon-saturated palette adds to the exaggerated and opulent setting. Karen Gillan gives an excellent physical performance and her action scenes are very exciting. She even uses a pair of tonfas at one point, although that doesn't live up to its potential. Unfortunately, her delivery is a bit flat, which deflates a lot of the drama and emotional impact. While her menacing gaze, perpetually clenched jaw, and scowling delivery are appropriate for the character, they also distance you from getting close to her and empathizing with her, which is unfortunate. She's a coldblooded killing machine and an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. It's also impossible to watch her and not see Nebula from "Guardians Of The Galaxy" (2014), because her fierce presentation is exactly the same. The only difference is the hair, and Gillan's hair looks absolutely fantastic in the film. Fortunately, the emotional and dramatic slack is picked up by the rest of the talented cast. Lena Headey, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, and Michelle Yeoh are utterly delightful, and their action scenes are very enjoyable. Angela Bassett was a bit too over-the-top for me, and she has one kill scene that actually made me wince and let out a shout at the theater. The most subversive thing about the film is that aside from Gillan, the leads are all in their late 40's or older (Ms. Bassett is 63), which is nearly unheard of in the industry, and especially for a female-centric action film. I also applaud the film for not exploiting the sexuality of the characters and for avoiding the usual gender tropes, which is an all-too-common failing of most non-Asian female action films.

While it's a good looking and well-made film, it suffers from being overly ambitious and overstepping the bounds of its production limits. The action scenes are nicely staged and choreographed, but the execution feels soft and lacking in places. Having become jaded by recent advancements and achievements in cinematic brawling, some of Gillan's scenes look like she's holding back and pulling her punches, which reduces some of the tension - most notably when she's fighting opponents who are considerably larger and stronger than her. The film also thinks it's far more clever than it actually is, which makes the humor and some of the more stylized set pieces fall flat. While it's not a great film, I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a smart and sassy "girls with guns" experience.