Atomic Blonde: Dumb enough to know how dumb it is

Action movies tend to be best defined by their boom boom, bang bang action sequences-and if you've got a couple great ones, that'll make up for nearly everything else.

Given the current resurgence of old-school action movies, fans of the genre have been wondering if John Wick and Agent Lorraine Broughton would ever have a crossover. Maybe both. Hmmm, how many times have we seen that in the James Bond canon of films? This is done in elaborately choreographed fight scenes that would be at home in the John Wick movies, (with which it shares co-director, David Leitch, ) but the overall tone and story are closer to a more traditional John Le'Carre-esque Cold War espionage thriller.

Real or not, the Atomic Blonde list is definitely something straight out of Cold War mythology. Charlize Theron plays an MI6 superspy assigned to clean up a mess involving a stolen list of the identities of undercover agents (aka the McGuffin in the first Mission: Impossible movie). Directed by David Leitch, a former stunt coordinator and second unit man getting his shot at the big top, "Atomic Blonde" is based on a graphic novel series and set in Berlin 1989, just before the collapse of the Wall. This week, the film hits theaters and should delight those of you who wish more women would get to kick some ass. The Oscar victor twisted her knee, bruised her ribs and clenched her teeth so hard while shooting one of the over-the-top fight scenes she cracked two teeth, requiring dental surgery. Atomic Blonde is brilliantly conceived as an action movie, but since everything between the set pieces is so boring and dreary, it's not a particularly good movie. So she's a portrait of stoic endurance as she's grilled by MI6 handler Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and Central Intelligence Agency honcho Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman), who want to know what went wrong with a recent operation in which one of her colleagues was killed.

Still, that action is damn good. The city streets, buildings and locations are a study in gray in such a way that combined with Theron's platinum locks, the production often feels only one F-stop away from being a black-and-white movie.

Leitch's name can't be spoken in the same breathe as that filmmaker's yet, but his work in "Atomic Blonde" is pretty impressive. (Their gratuitous sex scene sets up one of Atomic Blonde's funnier gag cuts.) Lorraine is a fantasy object-a statuesque Barbie-blond who fucks lovely women when she isn't fucking up ugly, cauliflower-eared Soviet henchmen-and Theron owns it.

This is the recipe for the quite ridiculous, ultra-violent and deliriously entertaining "Atomic Blonde", a slick vehicle for the magnetic, badass charms of Charlize Theron, who is now officially an A-list action star on the strength of this film and "Mad Max: Fury Road".

The bruises turn out to be from the story she soon relates.

Meanwhile, during the premiere of the spy movie at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, Theron hinted that there might be more sequels on their way.

On the other hand, the story by 300 writer Kurt Johnstad (adapting the graphic novel by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart) falls into the classic trap of telling an overly convoluted spy/espionage story, with so many double-agents and double-crosses that it's hard to keep straight what's going on, moment to moment, and what the character motivations are.

The action scenes are simply stunning, jaw-dropping even, but there just aren't enough of them to overcome "Atomic Blonde's" lumbering plot. Leitch stages one sequence, starting in a stairwell and ending in a auto chase, in one unbroken take lasting at least 10 minutes - an astonishing piece of choreography and endurance for all involved. It runs 115 minutes and is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity.

It's unfortunate that "Atomic Blonde" is so sloppy, as it wastes a fun performance by McAvoy, the sole energetic force of the film, a few great fights and some flashy directing. Until everyone shoots at her in an extended chase/face-off sequence, no one shoots at her, preferring garrotes, knives and insults.

Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey. In fact, were "Baby Driver" still not so fresh in our minds, the use of music in "Atomic Blonde" might seem a whole lot cooler, baby. This isn't the first thing you'll think about with this movie.

  • Salvatore Jensen