In the battle for consumer attention, there are few who can proclaim the sheer amount of content Netflix offers on a daily basis. As one of the original disruptors of consumed content (first as a disc-only service before shifting to streaming), Netflix sought to make available as many films and television shows as possible. But paying for licensing rights gets expensive, so there was a shift into creating original content. This is where series television like Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, You, and Sex Education or any of the canceled Marvel programs are frequently mentioned in praise, whereas the films often are not. For some reason, Netflix films are seen as the kind of films no one wants. Stranger still, this means ignoring films like Beasts of No Nation, Okja, Kodachrome, Gerald’s Game, Mute, Private Life, 22 July, and these are just the features, not the documentaries. The latest to join the cavalcade is director Joe Lynch’s (Mayhem) Point Blank, a remake of a 2010 French film which now stars tremendous odd couple Anthony Mackie and Frank Grillo (both from Captain America: The Winter Soldier). While the film doesn’t reach the fantastical heights of Okja or the emotional lows of Kodachrome, Point Blank offers an entertaining experience which works due to the chemistry of the cast.
Nurse Paul (Mackie) and his wife Taryn (Teyonah Parris) are three weeks from their due date and Paul’s doing everything he can to keep Taryn calm and comfortable. Despite his best efforts, chaos finds them both when Taryn is kidnapped with the promise of release if Paul escorts Abe (Grillo), an injured murder suspect, from the hospital grounds. With no choice but to do as asked, Paul finds himself in over his head quickly as just being near Abe puts a target on Paul. Backs to the wall, both men have to team-up to survive against corrupt cops and rival criminals in Cincinnati, Ohio.
If you’re going to have an odd couple-type film, putting Grillo and Mackie together is the easiest decision you’ll make. They’ve shared the screen together before, both possess strong physical presences, and both have a quality which allows them to be strong yet sensitive within the same scene. This comes in handy as the audience is compelled to root for both of them. Nothing wrong with an anti-hero, but when kidnapping comes into play, especially when one of them is pregnant, there’s a challenge immediately present to capture the audience’s empathy. The energy both actors put forward helps land the emotions required to enable the audience to see them as a believable team, as push comes to shove. Adding to this are Marcia Gay Harden (Code Black) as Lt. Regina Lewis, Christian Cooke as Abe’s brother Mateo, and Parris. Each of them help elevate moments which might come across as schlocky in the moment through simple performative choices. Parris as Taryn, especially, is given opportunities to show that she’s not just a damsel in distress, and Parris makes the most of every single one. For her part, Harden’s Regina never seems to go an octave over a calm hush through the entire movie. If that doesn’t tell you the kind of shit Lewis has been through and what she is willing to do to get her suspect, not much else will. That kind of cool, collected demeanor is comforting at the best of times and unsettling at the worst.
The first half of Point Blank is lean and mean, opening with an action set piece which establishes the danger of the narrative as Abe runs through a suburb, returning gunfire to his masked assailants. In this one sequence, which opens with a pretty great establishing shot, the audience gets everything they need to know about Abe. This is his story, he’s not to be screwed with, and he’s not only a capable fighter, but is smart with his tech. There’s also a damn spectacular fake-out that clearly put the stunt people to work to accomplish. Smash cut to the title and then an introduction to Paul. So far, so good. The narrative finds time to ground Paul as someone out of his element when he starts dealing with gun fights and fisticuffs, something which Mackie sells wonderfully. For a guy who’s been in a string for action films, his performance makes it easy to believe he’s the weak link between the two. As a thriller, Point Blank just chugs along, never losing steam until it reaches the third act. From here, it not only loses its momentum, but the tone shifts dramatically away from tension into comedy in a way that doesn’t hold. The intent may not be comedic, but situation + delivery lends itself more toward a comedy than the tension-building before it. This is also around the part of Point Blank where it diverts from the 2010 original. Screenwriter Adam G. Simon (Man Down) has some great ideas, especially when it comes to the setting up the final confrontation, but the run-up to that moment not only shifts genres, but seems to absolutely remove any sense of the internal clock Point Blank runs on for the first two-thirds: Taryn is almost at her due date and stress can induce labor. Granted, the story needs to create an opportunity for each side of the forces to shore up before a fight, but it somehow feels as though too much time passes without concern for Taryn. In fact, for those aware of the original film, there’re a few noticeable change in the structure of the film from the way Paul gets involved in the situation to the ending, some of which goes beyond the cultural and time divide. In several ways, some changes make Point Blank a cleaner, more efficient version, while others don’t make much sense at all. However, these changes also make it clear whose movie this is: Grillo’s.
If you’re going to remake a film, it’s imperative that the new version has something to say, something to add to the conversation. The 2010 version lacks the racial elements in Lynch’s version. Though not a necessary change, the shift in the characters and the setting allow for a subtext to keep tensions running even when all seems won. One scene in particular is staged in such a way that the racial conflicts of Cincinnati seem to guarantee an unhappy ending, which showcases just how strong an idea Simon’s decision is. Even if subtextually, Point Blank pushes the audience to consider who they are rooting for and why certain scenes take on an element of tension for Paul when they shouldn’t otherwise. In this way, whether it’s full-on drama, action comedy, or moving toward a thriller, there’s enough within to keep audiences engaged and interested. Nothing wrong with that.
Available for streaming on Netflix beginning July 12th, 2019.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.