Movie review: "Gunman" has shaky aim on action conventions

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

For his new action-thriller “The Gunman,” producer/star Sean Penn enlisted Pierre Morel, the director of the first “Taken” — you know, before that series got really ridiculous?

The choice seems obvious for the sort of mix of macho and Euro, as well as the fact that Penn seems to want to follow Liam Neeson’s template for brooding tough guy. Despite a cast with potential, “Gunman” tries to be sophisticated at times and yet isn’t over-the-top enough for a fun, dumb action fix.

After a quick news recap sets the scene of civil war and corruption in the Congo, we meet Jim Terrier (Penn), a mercenary who seems to be one of the good guys — at least as “good” as hired killers get, right?

When Jim’s mission evolves into a high-profile political assassination, he’s forced to leave the continent. This proves problematic to his relationship with his love interest, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), whom is left behind in the care of Felix (Javier Bardem). The years pass with Jim doing humanitarian work (obviously), until an attempt on his life dredges up old skeletons.

“Gunman” starts off on a foot that makes you think we’re going to get all the international intrigue of a John le Carre novel, before getting wildly and predictably testosterone-fueled. See: the director of “Taken.”

Penn seems to have fun trying on his action-hero shoes, as he makes John both a nice guy (who digs wells for poor people) and a badass (when he murders people with his bare hands).

With a cast that boasts Penn, Bardem and another top-notch actor I won’t name because he doesn’t appear until the final 30 minutes, this movie could have been smart, slick and sophisticated.

Instead, it becomes a Van Damme-esque ballet of bloody dispensings of bad guys. In this macho world, Annie is a tired damsel-in-distress stereotype (and also a tired third of a love triangle/penis-measuring contest).

Ultimately, “The Gunman” is too absurd to take seriously and too serious to enjoy as a popcorn flick. If its target is being surprisingly dull, it’s a bullseye.

Photo courtesy of Open Road Films

"The Gunman"

Opens Friday

2 stars out of 4