2021, R, 114 mins.
Karen Gillan as Sam / Carla Gugino as Madeleine / Lena Headey as Scarlet / Michelle Yeoh as Florence / Angela Bassett as Anna May / Paul Giamatti as NathanWritten and directed by Navot Papushado / Written by Ehud Lavski and Papushado
The preposterously titled new Netflix action thriller GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE is - to take a page out of the PULP FICTION vernacular playbook - not quite five dollar shake good. More like a cheaper, less flavourful, and forgettable discount beverage way down on the genre menu.
Navot Papushado directed affair is kind of like a hodgepodge of JOHN
WICK meets THE
KINGSMAN, but with a squadron of kick-ass women leading the
There's nothing inherently wrong with copying these templates and
adding in a gender swap (steal from the best, I say!), and GUNPOWDER
MILKSHAKE most definitely has its fair share of propulsive blood curdling
action sequences to appease fans, not to mention a slick and vibrant
aesthetic sheen and a stellar cast of ladies assembled here.
The main issue with the film, though, is that it's high on style
and very, very low on substance, leaving the whole enterprise
feeling disappointingly hollow in the end.
and the makers here squander the instantly likeable Karen Gillan something
She was so simultaneously alluring and charming in the two JUMANJI
reboot films, but here she rarely is provided an opportunity to utilize
her natural gifts as an on-screen comedian (on top of her thoroughly
credible action hero skills) while playing this film's one note, one woman
That's a large shame, because GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE all but stymies
her ample charisma and saddles her with a stoic and sullen female assassin
for hire that never really commands our interest.
In the film she plays Sam, who has taken up as an adult the same
line of work as her mother Scarlet (Lena Headey, only 14 years Gillan's
senior in real life) before her: trained killer.
Sam was abandoned by her mom as a teenager, and years later she
took up the family practice, so to speak, and works for the mysterious
organization dubbed "The Firm," overseen by her boss and handler
in Nathan (Paul Giamatti).
Sam has never forgotten or forgiven Scarlet for leaving her, which
is probably why she has devoted her pain and frustrations into her job.
And she's ruthlessly good at it.
relatively stable occupational life gets upended when a mission with some
faulty intel goes sideways quite fast, leading to the accidental murder of
the Firm's rival boss' only son, which means that Sam's place and standing
with her own bosses is in jeopardy.
Nathan provides a clean up assignment, of sorts, for Sam, which
requires her to nab a sought after suitcase filled with stolen money, but
along the way things get really hairy for her when she shoots the wrong
man and discovers that his kidnapped daughter in Emily (Chloe Coleman) is
still alive and needing protection.
Still processing her own mother and abandonment issues, Sam takes
it upon herself to take Emily in and protect her, which is unfortunately
against Nathan's explicit wishes and orders.
Now, Sam and Emily become wanted women in the gangland world, which
results in her seeking sanctuary and help from a secret fraternity of
librarians - Florence (Michelle Yeoh), Ann May (Angela Bassett) and
Madeleine (Carla Gugino) - who have amassed quite an arsenal of weapons,
all of which are stashed in classic books on their shelves.
Inevitably, all of these bad ass women band to fend off the
unending barrage of evil men that are coming to kill Sue and Emily.
the things that mostly work in GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE it would easily be the
core relationship between the cold blooded killer in Sam and the sweet and
innocent young child in Emily. They find themselves at an uneasy
crossroads in their respective lives.
We learn in a decent introductory flashback scene how Sam and her
own mother were robbed of any type of a normal family dynamic, which helps
to precipitate Sam's yearning to become a surrogate mother for Emily,
despite the inherent dangers that both face.
Also, the Israeli born Papushado has a field day with crafting the
bright hued and neon tinted visual tapestry of this film's world (it's
like cotton candy-ified JOHN WICK), and his team-up with cinematographer
Michael Seresin scores large dividends in terms of splashing the screen
with a pop art meets film noir veneer.
GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE's inviting imagery doesn't hide the fact that
this is a brutally gory thrill ride, and this film most assuredly works
for and rightfully earns its R-rating.
But as a vivacious work of pure flamboyance that aims to please the
eyes, GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE a fantastically immersive visual treat, to be
action beats here - as mentioned - are stupendously realized as well, and
on a level of sheer bone crunching, fist smashing, and bullets spewing
mayhem, Papushado certainly delivers on the goods in providing multiple
opportunities for Sam (and her fellow female warriors) to display they
ample and lethal abilities.
There's a superbly engineered sequence pitting Sam against three
Firm goons in a bowling alley, and an even more inspired subplot involving
her getting toxins injected into her arms (don't ask) that forces her to
come up with some quick witted ways to defend herself without using them.
Of course, the other supporting stars get their individual moments
to shine as well, and watching Yeoh, Bassett, Gugino, and Headey get
opportunities for serious comeuppance of the squads of men that try to
wrong them is undeniably entertaining.
Yeoh in particular has attained such a legendary status in the
annals of martial arts cinema that seeing her at 58 never seeming to miss
a beat on screen is a bona fide treat.
She does things against a vile marauder with a chain that that's on
point for its adrenalized awesomeness.
said all of this, I just simply didn't connect with this material as much
as I was hoping.
The liberal borrowing from the JOHN WICK story playbook here is, to
be blunt, kind of stale and lacking in inspiration.
Both films involve legendary assassins having to defend themselves
from wave after way of attackers on both sides while trying to find safety
in some form of neutral ground territory (in WICK we had The Continental
and here we have the aforementioned library). Those similarities didn't
bother me as much as the fact that GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE simply doesn't make
full usage of its sizable female talent.
I like the cool concept of gun touting librarians and I love the
head strong conviction that the actresses embody here.
Alas, there's a repetitiveness to the wanton violence on display
throughout the film, and more often than not these actresses just become
puppets to the orchestrated chaos on screen.
Their defining characteristics are that they're extremely good at
barbarically killing men, and not much else.
There is nothing wrong with having women substituted in for men in
action cinema (more please), but GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE doesn't invest in
these personalities at all, and seeing the great actresses here just shoot
and blow things up for two hours gets pretty numbing after awhile.