At The Movies

Assassin story with heart and loads of stylish action

(From far left) Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino are custodians of a private arsenal in Gunpowder Milkshake. (Left) Henry Golding in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.
(From far left) Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino are custodians of a private arsenal in Gunpowder Milkshake. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
(From far left) Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino are custodians of a private arsenal in Gunpowder Milkshake. (Left) Henry Golding in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.
(From far left) Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino are custodians of a private arsenal in Gunpowder Milkshake. (Left) Henry Golding in Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins.PHOTOS: SHAW ORGANISATION, UIP

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (M18)

115 minutes, opens today

3/5 stars

It would be easy to dismiss this "gun action in a fantasy world" flick as an all-female copy of the John Wick franchise (2014 to 2019).

But this slice of stylised violence strikes its own path with its wider emotional palette, an ambitious choice that creates this film's best and worst moments.

Set in an unnamed American city during a time period that blends 1950s jet-age style with contemporary technology such as mobile phones, a girl, Sam, is abandoned by her mother, Scarlet (Lena Headey), a hitwoman.

Fifteen years later, Sam (Karen Gillan), like her mother, is an assassin working for an organisation known as The Firm. Its representative, Nathan (Paul Giamatti), orders her to clean up a case of embezzlement, a job that leads her to meet the three custodians of a private arsenal - played by Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino and Michelle Yeoh.

Israeli director and co-writer Navot Papushado favours intimate, intense scenes of gun and knife action, but he loves Americana more. You find bowling alleys flooded in pink neon, boat-sized 1970s cars, a soundtrack thick with classics from The Platters, Matt Monro and Bobby Darin, as well as pivotal scenes set in a 1950s diner, complete with a tough-but-tender waitress.

In contrast to hardcore martial arts movies such as Nobody (2021) or Atomic Blonde (2017) which emphasise realistic-looking hits, Papushado opts for confrontations that reflect a mood, such as goofiness or tragedy, and is ready to sacrifice clarity of action for emotion.

His predilection for the fanciful goes too far. The conceit of an arcane weapons loan service modelled on a lending library, for example, is taken to cringe-worthy extremes.

In between the first and final scenes, Sam's journey follows a predictable hitman-with-a-heart arc that undercuts the foundations of the story. How could a woman with such a finely tuned moral compass be an assassin, much less one held in such high esteem by her employers?

SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS (PG13)

121 minutes, opens today

Not reviewed

There was no press preview for this fantasy-action film detailing the origins of Snake Eyes, the masked and famously mute super-soldier and core member of the G.I. Joe team.

Played by Ray Park in two previous G.I. Joe films (2009 and 2013), the role in this spin-off has been passed to Malaysian actor Henry Golding.

The story begins with the mysterious warrior of the film's title entering training with a ninja clan, only to find his past catching up with him.

HI! BROTHER (PG)

105 minutes, opens today

Not reviewed

In this family drama set in China, Yang Tingfeng (Hu Xianxu) and Yang Tingyu (Deng Enxi) are a pair of brother and sister forced to accommodate a new sibling when Li Sheng (Zheng Wei) joins the family out of the blue.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2021, with the headline 'Assassin story with heart and loads of stylish action'. Subscribe