Appealing threesome enhances confused material.
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“Freelance” (now in theaters) is the latest from French director (and Luc Besson protégé) Pierre Morel, who’s best known for kicking off the Liam Neeson action flick subgenre with “Taken.” I’m not as hot on “Taken” as many others (I’m the weirdo who favors its sequels) and actually tend to prefer Morel’s more critically-maligned movies (among them “From Paris with Love” and “Peppermint”). This trend continues with “Freelance,” which currently sits with a whopping 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
John Cena stars as Mason Pettits, a former Special Forces soldier who’s subsequently taken a soul-sucking job as an attorney. Mason’s marriage is on the skids (his wife’s played by the lovely and talented Alice Eve, but for the life of me I can’t find or remember her character’s name … yeah, it’s that sorta role) and he’s a bad influence on his daughter Casey (Molly McCann) because he encouraged her to throat-punch a wannabe playground smoocher.
Mason’s brother-in-arms Sebastian Earle (Christian Slater, essentially bringing his “Archer” character to live action) comes to him with an offer. Sebastian’s been making beaucoup bucks in the private sector and wants Mason to take a gig protecting disgraced reporter Claire Wellington (Alison Brie) while she’s in the fictional country of Palodonia interviewing the autocratic President Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba). Mason jumps at the $20,000 payday and a coupla days away from familial strife.
Unfortunately, an attempted coup takes place upon Mason and Claire’s arrival and they wind up on the run with Venegas in tow. Doggedly pursuing them are a South African mercenary (New Zealand actor Marton Csokas, rocking an impressive accent and an awful haircut) and his cadre of cannon-fodder cronies.
“Freelance” isn’t a good movie, but it’s far better than its 0 RT score would suggest. The script by former “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” writer Jacob Lentz could definitely be sharper. The third act is a bit of a mess. Its politics are confused in that it seems to be simultaneously embracing and dismissing dictatorships. It’s also an action comedy without enough jolts or laughs. There is some cool action (much of it’s limited to the opening credits and an instance wherein Cena’s Mason takes down a chopper with a sniper rifle) and there are some decent laughs (I was amused when Brie’s Claire mounts a horse backwards … an oldie but a goodie in this gifted comedienne’s hands), but we needed more.
Despite the material not entirely being up to snuff, it’s elevated at almost every turn by Cena, Brie and Raba (who arguably steals the picture with his exuberant energy). “Freelance” is a three-hander that works mostly because of the threesome at its core. There’s a scene in which Claire attempts to seduce Mason that may very well be one of the year’s sexiest sequences.
Other films have trod similar material to greater success of late (“The Lost City” and “Shotgun Wedding” spring to mind), but “Freelance” is a perfectly serviceable plane or hotel movie. I’m sure it’ll be popular when it drops on streaming services in the next few months. Morel is a director with “a particular set of skills” – he just needs a smarter script and less shoddy green screen shots next time out.