Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 54 minutes, Director – Navot Papushado
After betraying her firm, assassin Sam (Karen Gillan) must protect herself and eight-and-three-quarter-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman) against an elaborate criminal world.
There’s a sketch by Australian comedy group Aunty Donna in which the three main faces of the team refer to and treat books in a library as if they’re drugs. Secret whispered exchanges amongst the shelves occur in reference to just how many pages a particular book might have. “Pages? There’s no way of knowing. They’ve not found a way to do that” responds the librarian, pointing to the number in the top corner. It’s a sketch that came to mind a handful of times during a selection of ‘library’ scenes throughout Gunpowder Milkshake. As Karen Gillan and Carla Gugino discuss ‘books’ – a slight pause just before each mention of the disguised term for guns – at the far desk of the expansive room you can’t help but begin to wonder whether the obviousness is coming across in just the delivery or whether the dialogue itself seems almost forceful. As if it doesn’t think the audience will get the point.
This moment contrasts greatly to the later scenes set in the same ‘library’. As forces charge down the open space between the door and the desk Gillan, Gugino, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Lena Headey do serious battle. Guns, hammers and axes blazing! In fact such fights take up a large part of the film’s second half and yet pass by with ease due to the enjoyment to be found within them. It’s during such moments that co-writer (alongside Ehud Lavski) and director Navot Papushado allows his film to breathe. During the first half of the piece as we see Gillan’s Sam turn her back on the firm she works for in order to save eight-and-three-quarter-year-old Emily (Chloe Coleman). Very quickly she finds herself being hunted down by Paul Giamatti’s other contract killers and henchmen, alongside a large range of figures from an elaborate criminal underworld.
It’s an underworld with so much potential, shown lightly in scenes set in the ‘library’ and a spotless underground doctor’s surgery. It’s a fascinating world that you want to see and know more about, grabbing your attention in a way similar to that of The Continental in the John Wick series. However, particularly in the first half, Gunpowder Milkshake seems so focused on having each scene simply focused on plot and moving things on that there’s little room for much else. Even brief action sequences, infused with the neon visual flair of the piece, seem somewhat cut down – and perhaps overpowered by the music used in the background. As things shift into the second half the piece the style slightly shifts to focus more on the action, letting it have more space and flow a bit better alongside becoming more the main focus. Events occurring through that rather than the various conversations and slight actions of characters.
While you do wonder why the rest of the film couldn’t have quite been like this, it’s still watchable beforehand, the second half certainly has its high entertainment value. Things feel less in-your-face and slightly steadier as the cast are allowed to unleash stylish (although of a different sort – more about the wider elements of the piece rather than primarily the look/ lighting), and undeniably violent fight tactics all in order to protect Coleman’s occasionally amusing, completely innocent character. Coleman, while not always getting a great deal of lines and having to compete with a lot of established acting talent, does well to not get drowned out and helps with some of the film’s lighter moments – continuing after the positive surprise of last year’s My Spy. This particularly showing her skill when the few, scattered attempts at humour throughout the film don’t always land.
In fact most of the supporting cast don’t get a great deal of screen-time but still just about manage to have an effect at some point, perhaps because of the star-power they exude during a handful of scenes. Put to good use during the lengthy library fight with its escalating action that continues to hold your attention and keep you situated within the piece. It acts as an engaging set-piece that while seeing wave after wave of villains pour through the door with a rainfall of bullets and blood manages to avoid an overly repetitious feel. It’s perhaps the highlight of the film, especially coming after the heavily plotted first half. Definitely a film of two halves, the elements, style and focus appear to change throughout them. While the overall product is decent viewing it does sometimes seem as conflicting as the idea of a gunpowder milkshake itself.
To get to the entertaining set-piece action, where the film finally gets chance to properly breathe, you do have to get through the heavily plotted first half of Gunpowder Milkshake. And while you’d like to explore the criminal underworld more there’s amusement enough in this occasionally conflicted actioner.