Tuesday, 18 June 2024

‘The Gray Man’ delivers runaway thrills for action junkies


Jason Statham’s action career may be on a brief hiatus because he would seem to be an ideal choice for a role in Netflix’s movie “The Gray Man” as a globe-trotting skilled operative taking out assorted bad guys.

This reminds me that Statham starred as a special agent on a secret mission to thwart weapons dealers in Guy Ritchie’s “Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” which was slated for release earlier this year and I still haven’t found it on a major streaming service.

We’ll have to settle for Ryan Gosling as a CIA operative known only as Sierra Six, once an Agency-sanctioned merchant of death, but now the target of psychopath mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans).

For fans of action films there is no need to wait for Jason Statham or Liam Neeson to pummel villains into the ground. “The Gray Man,” at the tune of an ostensible budget that could finance a war in a small country, delivers the thrills craved by action junkies.

Serving time in a federal penitentiary for killing his abusive father, Six is offered a get-out-jail-free card when recruited by CIA handler Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) to join the Agency as an assassin.

Much like operatives such as James Bond and Jason Bourne, Six works mostly on his own in dishing out mayhem and killing enemies, proving that he picked up some nice moves during internment, or so it would seem.

Under the tutelage of Fitzroy, things are working out nicely for Six, but then a change in management results in having to report to Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), a shadowy, unethical string-puller with a dubious agenda.

Six’s world is upended when he’s assigned to kill another agent who happens to be in possession of a flash drive that would reveal dark Agency secrets implicating Carmichael in treachery.

As a result of this assignment, Six now has a target on his back and becomes hunted by Lloyd Hansen, who is not only criminally insane but sports a mustache that makes him look like a Seventies porn star.

Since Fitzroy is retired, Six has few allies to watch his back, other than fellow Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), as well as retired CIA station chief Margaret Cahill (Alfre Woodard).

Meanwhile, though Fitzroy would want to assist his protégé, his young niece Claire (Julia Butters), beset by health problems with a pacemaker, has been kidnapped by the deranged Hansen who will kill anyone looking at him the wrong way.

The contrast between the principled Six, who would not hurt a kid, and the nutjob Hansen, who tortures Fitzroy in a cringeworthy, hard-to-watch manner, is brutally stark. Hansen is so evil that it’s a wonder his mustache is not bushy enough to twirl.

Unreservedly nasty and fearsome, Hansen can deliver funny insults like referring to Six as Ken Doll, but mostly he’s just a bloodthirsty killing machine without any remorse for random acts of brutality.

Interestingly enough, Six has a tattoo of Sisyphus, which is emblematic of his inability to escape his role as an assassin, given the alternative would be a return to prison.

Underused in his part is the appearance of Indian actor Dhanush as Lone Wolf, touted as the most competent and fearless killer to be unleashed in the hunt to kill Six.

The plot of “The Gray Man” is arguably standard to the action genre, and the inevitable showdown between Six and Hansen is as predictable as a sunny day in Phoenix during the month of August, and yet the movie is a lot of fun even if it is ultimately disposable.

Occasional breaks occur in the nonstop action, with the most notable one being the time that Six ends up babysitting Claire while Fitzroy is away, and even then it’s not long before another assassin invades the Fitzroy home.

Flashbacks to Six’s childhood and his tortured relationship with a sadistic father don’t make for an interesting back story to explain how he wound up in the joint.

The question that hangs over Netflix is whether the streaming service will turn “The Gray Man” into a spy caper franchise. News reports, if accurate, and Netflix willing to pony up the megabucks indicate the affirmative.

The James Bond franchise may eventually run its course, considering that 007 perished in “No Time to Die.” How will the British secret agent be revived? Will there be a female Bond? Meanwhile, the Gray Man, aka Six, could be the future.

What more can an action fan ask for other than a surfeit of explosions, wild chases, shootouts, fireworks, a runaway train demolishing everything in its path, and even a plane falling from the sky? “The Gray Man” has it all, and then some with thrills to entertain.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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