Sean Penn is a sniper working for a mercenary group in Africa. He assassinates a government official and must go into hiding, leaving behind his girlfriend (Jasmine Trinca) to be scooped up by fellow merc Javier Bardem. Years later, he’s back in Africa under a different name working for a humanitarian organization when a handful of assassins try to take him down. He investigates the source, meets up with the shady fellows from his past, and tries to reconnect with his former love.
This isn’t anything new – it’s okay action, your standard plot, lots of buffed-up Sean Penn showing he’s a killer who cares, and exotic locations. There’s little humor, not much suspense, a non-sequitur role for Bardem, but there’s also not much of a ham-fisted political message either. Nor is it on the level of director Pierre Morel’s earlier film Taken; it’s a hardy helping of American-cheese slices on semi-stale crackers – not an extravagant hors d’oeuvres, the cheese could be better, even generic sharp cheddar, and the crackers aren’t buttered, but it’s not spray cheese and wafers either. As a light snack before the real action movies arrive in a few months, it’s palatable.
Anyone expecting something substantial (would you really?) shall stay away. The film’s not a disaster, as much of the reaction seems to indicate, the only true sins it commits are wasting Idris Elba (who’s involvement is so sparse that one wonders how much of his role was cut) and recycling the interminable device of having the hero suffer from some ad hoc disease that incapacitates him whenever the screenwriter feels the scene doesn’t have enough tension.
It stunk in last year’s Three Days to Kill, when it actually had some impact on the story, and it reeks now. Penn’s plausible and even interesting at times, so I hope his action career doesn’t end with the film. Jasmine Trinca also has a distinct talent for looking winsome in front of white curtains, and the rest of the cast has so little to do that the highlight of their performances is coming up with something to say about their characters during interviews.