Ever since the Bourne trilogy came along and jacked up the spy-thriller genre, many films have tried to recapture its sweaty-palmed magic. But none of them, including two more films with “Bourne” in the title, have quite reached those high standards. The latest contender, Unlocked, strains to pull off the same moves. But where Supremacy and Ultimatum in particular were pure caffeine, this is more like herbal tea. Despite the impressive cast, it rarely manages to accelerate the pulse.
The one original-ish twist, although Steven Soderbergh beat them to the punch with 2011’s Gina Carano vehicle Haywire, is to make the hero female. CIA operative Alice Racine gets a quick backstory setting her up as a troubled badass: she’s a former teen runaway who once broke a teacher’s arm, obviously for good reason. More recently, she was traumatised by a bridge-based terror attack in 2012, while she was stationed in Paris. It’s a pretty rote set-up, but Noomi Rapace, ever adept at playing emotionally lacerated characters, brings heft to the role. And when it all inevitably goes to hell and Alice goes on the run, Rapace flings herself into the action scenes, totally believable as a hard-as-nails streetfighter.
The supporting characters are less successful. On paper, Unlocked has a couple of major draws: namely Michael Douglas and John Malkovich. But neither performance is likely to linger long in the mind. Douglas is in a handful of scenes as an avuncular spymaster, dispensing such bland intelligence clichés as, “Langley’s going to want to bring you in,” and, “I’m too old for this shit.” Malkovich, meanwhile, as a typically Malkovichian grouchy CIA chief, delivers almost all of his lines over Skype (at one point he changes things up and uses FaceTime). On the plus side, he has an excellent character name: Bob Hunter. Subverting expectations, at no point in the runtime does Bob Hunter become Bob Hunted.
These roles are merely forgettable, but one of the film’s major missteps comes as it introduces Jack, a cheeky-chappie, video game-loving East End burglar who, for some reason, teams up with Alice. He’s tattooed, boasts an earring and calls her “love” — basically Danny Dyer. So of course the producers called on Orlando Bloom. The Canterbury-born star gives it a good go, but the character is inherently ridiculous and the casting doesn’t help, especially with Bloom required to sell lines like, “I love a tagine.”
As for the director, Michael Apted is a decent filmmaker who’s been cranking out thrillers since 1983’s Moscow-set Gorky Park. But here he seems hampered by a limited budget (most of the action sequences take place in stairwells or car parks) and a tepid plot that meanders around London without building up much of a head of steam. Unlocked goes for grit over gloss, and it occasionally works: a lo-fi interrogation scene, complete with can of Irn-Bru, feels real and tense. After a while, though, you start to yearn for the jittery rush and bravura of Paul Greengrass’ camera moves.
This material — bioweapons, dastardly imams, double-agent reveals — has been so well-mined in recent years (even 24 did a season in London) that a story needs something up its sleeve to overcome viewer fatigue. This has a couple of big, outlandish twists, but they’re not really enough. Any plans there may be to turn this into a new franchise (next up: The Unlocked Supremacy?) are likely wishful thinking.