I didn't think that I'd be even a little impressed by another violent comic book of a movie that makes the phrase "over-the-top" seem understated.
Credit director Navot Papushado with making a movie that boasts a strong female cast and blasts its way into summer with gusto, style, and a surfeit of butt-kicking pleasures.
The movie begins when an assassin (Lena Headey) shares a milkshake with her 12-year-old daughter. Crosswise with her employer, an outfit known as The Firm, Mom flees.
The story then leaps ahead 15 years and the daughter (Karen Gillan) -- now a young woman -- has gone into the family business. She, too, works for The Firm, taking assignments from Nathan (Paul Giamatti), an "executive" who consults with a board composed of men cut from corporate cloth.
Gillan's Sam, who hasn’t seen her mother since that fateful day at the diner, attracts trouble when an assignment puts her at odds with the evil Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson). A furious McAlister vows vengeance because his son was among Sam's victims.
You needn’t know much more about the plot which quickly lands Sam at a “library” where three women (Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett) lend weapons to a select clientele. They know Sam's mom, who once was a fellow "librarian."
As the story unfolds, Sam finds herself looking out for Emily (Chloe Coleman), an eight-year-old whose father had the misfortune of being shot by Sam. Realizing that she probably shouldn't have shot Emily's dad, Sam takes the kid underwing. Emily starts referring to herself as Sam's "apprentice."
Emily also insists on reminding folks not to shortchange her age: She's actually eight and three-quarters.
Papushado understands that movies such as Gunpowder Milkshake live or die with their set pieces. For the most part, he delivers.
Among the best action: Sam engages in combat after her hands have been paralyzed by a fiendish doctor (Michael Smiley). To up the preposterous ante, Papushado has Sam battling three thugs who are stoned on laughing gas.
As the story barrels along, Emily receives what might be the wildest driving lesson in movie history, sitting on Sam's lap as the movie burns rubber in a nifty sequence that takes place mostly in a parking garage. Where else?
Gillan makes a strong impression and Gugino (bookish), Yeoh (reserved), and Bassett (censorious) give brief but pointed performances that don't disappoint when the chips are down.
Reminiscent of the best of old-fashioned Hong Kong-style action and lots of other predecessors, the movie's finale pits the women against what seems like a legion of angry men.
Clever and engaging, this wild goof on exploitation cinema is lifted by a kick-ass female cast that easily could turn up in a second helping. Worse things could -- and probably will -- happen at the movies.