Poor writing undermines this female-driven thrill-ride, proving there is more to an action movie than just action.
Olga Kurylenko is no stranger to action movies. The Ukrainian-born actress has appeared in several testosterone-fueled flicks, including 2007’s Hitman, 2014’s The November Man, 2012’s Erased, and, perhaps most famously, 2008’s James Bond entry, Quantum of Solace. But in all those films, she was a supporting player behind male stars (respectively) Timothy Olyphant, Pierce Brosnan, Aaron Eckhart, and Daniel Craig. That changes in her latest action entry, Momentum, which puts the actress’ name above the title and her character at the center of the film.
Kurylenko plays Alex Farraday, a thief called out of retirement for one last score. Though this high-tech heist nets Alex and her fellow thieves more than they bargain for. In addition to a cache of diamonds, they swipe a flash drive containing treasonous evidence against a mysterious US Senator (Morgan Freeman). Unfortunately, Alex’s identity is compromised during the heist and the Senator sends a “cleaning crew,” led by Mr. Washington (James Purefoy), to Capetown, South Africa, to kill the thieves and retrieve the drive. But Alex has other intentions.
If the biggest genre sin in film is a horror movie that isn’t scary, a close second has to be an action film that is utterly boring. This is the case with Momentum, brought to the screen by veteran camera operator-turned-rookie director Stephen S. Campanelli. To say it’s boring is not to say Campanelli doesn’t try; he does. It’s just that the screenplay (from Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan) is a threadbare patchwork of undeveloped characters, underdeveloped ideas, and tired action tropes.
It starts with Alex and that opening gambit. While I’m all for a film fading into the heart of a tense scene already in progress, that scene needs either quick context or a hint of something more cerebral that will payoff later. The intellectualism (such as it is) of Momentum is nowhere near the latter, but the former is abandoned entirely. By the end of the heist, all we know is Alex’s crew stole diamonds (but we don’t know why); we know there is infighting between certain members of the crew (but we don’t know the history); we know Alex’s big “reveal” must be devastating since it’s suggested everyone in the bank be murdered because they saw her face (with no explanation as to why such extreme measures are necessary); and we know Alex came out of retirement for the score (but we don’t know what drove her to retire and come back). None of this is context, it’s convenience—the shortest of shortcuts.
By the end of the heist, the film feels like it’s in the second act of a sequel, like there are things that ought to already be known. They aren’t, and it cripples the film.
Those notes on Alex, by the way, are about as deep as deep as she gets (although there is one other facet that is only hinted at—again for convenience—and another that is revealed too late in the film to actually care), but she’s not alone. Of the other two key characters in this film, Mr. Washington is more caricature than character (although ultimately a pretty good baddie, thanks to Purefoy having some fun with the role), and the Senator is far too much a mystery to be believable (and a waste of Freeman’s talents).
The main plot is no better developed than the heist: Alex has a flash drive, the Senator wants the flash drive, Mr. Washington pursues Alex to retrieve the flash drive. People die in the process. There’s the movie. All that’s left is the action which, because there is nothing cohesive to attach it to, plays as an anthology of violent set-pieces connected by common characters instead of a series of high-octane conflict/resolution moments that advance a story.
That action is decent and it includes everything this type of movie should: guns and explosives, a car chase, fight scenes, etc. And while he doesn’t break any ground, Campanelli has a couple notable moments, but really nothing more than that. In fact, the best scene of the film includes one particularly effective torture scene, with the irony being the torture is only heard; yes, the best scene in the film takes place offscreen.
Put it all together and it’s not an action movie, it’s an arcade game that gives the viewer just enough character background and story information before getting out of the way of the endless cycle of moves.
As for Kurylenko, it’s hard to tell if she can rise to the challenge of carrying an action picture on her own. It’s clear she has the physicality for it, and given she is a woman playing in a genre thats dominated by men, it’s hard not to measure her against the likes of Linda Hamilton (the Terminator films), Sigourney Weaver (the Alien franchise), Charlize Theron as Furiosa from Mad Max Fury Road, and several others. It’s also unfair to do that to her, because the material those women had to work with was far superior to what Kurylenko has had to make due with here.
Momentum might have its moments, but those moments are no match for the onslaught of “meh” the rest of the picture delivers.