A film review by Craig J. Koban June 12, 2022

INTERCEPTOR jjj
 

2022, Unrated, 98 mins.

Elsa Pataky as JJ Collins  /  Luke Bracey as Alexander Kessel  /  Aaron Glenane as Beaver Baker  /  Belinda Jombwe as Ensign Washington  /  Mayen Mehta as Rahul Shah  /  Paul Caesar as Captain Lou Welsh  /  Marcus Johnson as General Dyson  /  Rhys Muldoon as Clark Marshall  /  Colin Friels as Frank Collins

Directed by Matthew Reilly  /  Written by Reilly and Stuart Beattie

ORIGINAL FILM

Netflix's new action thriller INTERCEPTOR is pure junk food cinema.  

It's like a woefully unhealthy chocolate bar that you know is loaded with stomach busting calories, but one that you nevertheless crave and enthusiastically munch down.  

Maybe that's my round about way of describing INTERCEPTOR as my guilty pleasure film of the year thus far: This is a preposterously scripted, but preposterously enjoyable UNDER SIEGE clone (which, in turn, was a DIE HARD clone).  If an action picture from the late 80s to early 90s time warped to the present day then this seems like the end result.  Throughout much of INTERCEPTOR's running time I waited to see whether or not a time warped Bruce Willis...or a Steven Segal...or a Chuck Norris might show up to slay the bad guys and win the day.  Instead, we're given Spanish model turned actress Elsa Pataky (whom you might remember from the more recent FAST AND FURIOUS films and is the wife of THOR himself, Chris Hemsworth), and let me tell you that she carves out a memorable screen presence and makes for a thoroughly convincing action hero here. 

She plays Captain J.J. Collins, who's trying to return to military service after going through a hellish ordeal that far too many female officers in the service go through (more on that in a bit).  Despite the mental horrors of her military experience with higher ups, she steadfastly remains honor bound and loyal to defending her country and takes to her newest assignment with great pride and relish.  Early in the film she arrives at the SBX-1, an early warning station that's stuck smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The station's sole purpose is protect the U.S. from nuclear attacks by launching - ahem! - interceptor missiles that are supposed to strike down an enemy's nukes before they render American cities into apocalyptic wastelands.  Collins hooks up with her new comrades in Beaver (Aaron Glenane) and Shah (Mayen Mehta), but her first day on the job goes south extremely fast when it's revealed that another early warning station (in Alaska and on land) has been ruthlessly attacked and taken over by unknown assailants.  This means that Collins' station is the only one left to protect the U.S. from attack.  I'm no tactical nuclear defence expert, but it seems odd that America only has two early warning stations...but never mind.   

Things go from bad to worse when terrorists show up at SBX-1 and try to take it as well.  They are led by - son of a bitch!!!! - an American alpha male ex-soldier named Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey), who reveals to Collins and her team that they have nabbed over 16 nukes from a Russian facility and have aimed them at multiple U.S. cities and plan to blow them to kingdom come.  Obviously and as is the case with most psychopaths hell bent on death and destruction, Kessel's motives remain initially murky, but later revelations show the true scope and rational to his mad plan.  The only thing separating him and his goon squad from decimating America is - you got it! - Captain Collins herself, who has secluded herself and her team in the control room and has sealed themselves off with near impenetrable doors.  I say near impenetrable doors because Kessel and his squad have come prepared with the tools and tech needed to take them down - albeit slowly - and secure their date with Doomsday.  In the meantime, Captain Collins goes full-on John McClane mode in an intense cat and mouse game to fend herself off from these lunatics and secure America's survival.   

 

 

Directed with just the right wink-wink levels of nostalgic homage by Mathew Reilly (marking his feature film debut) and scripted by Stuart Beatie (whom previously penned COLLATERAL for Michael Mann), the lean and mean budgeted INTERCEPTOR does boast a premise that anyone familiar with the DIE HARD convention playbook would understand: A lone one-man (or in this case woman) kick ass squad has to use guerrilla tactics to take on multiple terrorist scum in a tense setting and dire situation (in DIE HARD it was a corporate highrise, in SPEED it was a bus, in UNDER SIEGE it was a Naval vessel, and now in INCEPTOR it's a nuclear warning station at sea).  Because this was a COVID-era shot production, Reilly obviously opted for a single (mostly) setting here, which is the SBX-1 station and - for large sections of the film - takes place in the claustrophobic confines of Collins' command center.  For the most part, these sections are fairly well orchestrated and maintain decent tension, but when the action unavoidably does migrate outside the control center and to other areas beyond on the station it's here where INTERCEPTOR's scant budgetary restraints (reportedly under $20 million) starts to rear their distracting and ugly heads.  There's CG used quite liberally to sell the location at sea, and sometimes it works, whereas other times it does look horribly phony. 

Still, I don't think that's a huge knock against the film and the type of throwback B-grade action thriller it's trying to be.  INTERCEPTOR is gloriously retrograde and sometimes amusingly old fashioned genre picture, and one that's completely unpretentious as to its past influences and doesn't bathe itself in lame nostalgia bait waters either.  Some modern action thrillers, to their discredit, take themselves as seriously as a heart attack, but Reilly, Beatie and their highly capable lead star in Pataky wisely understand that they're making a silly, no-nonsense, quippy, white knuckled, and propulsive action film that viewers can easily digest and perhaps not think very much about it while watching it or after finishing their streams.  The Aussie novelist turned filmmaker in Reilly does an admirable job in his rookie feature film debut in harnessing and choreographing all of the wanton and cheesy excess of this film and he keeps the increasingly ludicrous plot developments moving at a brisk pace.  At just under 90 minutes, INTERCEPTOR is refreshingly economical and doesn't wear out its welcome. 

And, yes, there have been action heroines that have populated genre exercises before, but Pataky's casting here is, for my money, one of the chief and inspired selling points of this film.  To be sure, Collins is no Ellen Ripley, and Pataky is certainly an actress with a limited range, to be sure.  But like, say, an early career Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme, she makes up for her lack of seasoned thespian skills by just looking the part and doing a thanklessly job of making her beleaguered hero a commanding an authoritative physical entity on camera.  She brings a hell of a lot of credible fury and ice cold, steely eyed determination to Collins, and audiences will have no problem believing that the relatively small (but ripped and carved out of granite) Pataky could easily go toe-to-toe with her much larger male (and in one case, female) attackers.  One other thing that INTERCEPTOR does surprisingly well is fleshing out the hero in question and not making her a prototypical unstoppable action figure.  Collins is given a dark backstory, which ties into a horrendous bout of being sexually abused at the hands of her predatory higher ups.  She courageously stood up to these fiends and spoke out about them, but the aftermath tragically led to her being all but blacklisted in the military.  I'm not going to come out now and say that INTERCEPTOR is a deep and sobering commentary piece of the plight of women experiencing abuse in service, because this film is anything but deep.  Having said that, the movie never makes Collins a victim to be saved: She has deeply vested reasons for proving her worth by taking out the terrorist trash, which gives INTERCEPTOR an added dimension to her whole dicey predicament.  You really want to root her on, all things considered. 

Not everything works here, though, especially when it comes to the villain himself in Bracey's white nationalist sermonizing thug, and it's not that he's bad in the role, but rather just lacking in sinister edge and snake-like charm (he almost underplays the role and fails to infuse it with over the top charisma, which is a miscalculated mistake).  Some elements tied to his plan are almost too far fetched for even this far fetched film, like how Kessel manages to tap into America's emergency broadcast system (yup...sure...uh huh) to telecast what's happening at SBX-1 to, well, everyone watching, including an L.A. based retail clerk (played by one of the film's producers in Hemsworth himself, in a horribly shoddy disguise) that's funny when first shown, but then the movie repeatedly cuts back to him reacting to what's happening to Collins and crew in real time...and it becomes more than a little grating (we get it, Chris: you produced this and your wife is in it, but maybe don't camera mug so much in an unnecessary extended cameo).  INTERCEPTOR is definitely an obligatory box checker effort for all involved and never once radically re-invents the genre wheel, not that it was trying at all.  It's junk food action cinema: neatly packaged, easy to open and consume, tasty, and goes down well, especially when one is yearning for it.  

Now, I don't want to eat chocolate bars every day, as that wouldn't be good for my increasingly expanding waistline, but once in awhile is okay.  

Go into INTERCEPTOR with that attitude.  And wear your stretchy pants.

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