The Rhythm Section (R)
This is, make no mistake about it, Blake Lively’s movie. The former Chanel model and “Most Beautiful” top-ranked star in Hollywood has figured in light comic and domestic roles, but this is a true breakout role for her. As Stephanie Patrick, she sets out to avenge her parents, killed in a plane bombing engineered by Reza (Tawfeek Barhom) and assisted by several others, some ostensible good guys, some obviously bad. She is aided in her preparation for assassination by Jude Law (nameless member of the CIA and MI6) and Sterling K. Brown, also nameless and of the CIA. They set targets for her.
The charming part of the film, if there is one, is Stephanie’s lack of a killer instinct. If there are children or wives around, she just can’t bring herself to pull the trigger or the knife; others take care of the baddies, usually by blowing them up.
The “rhythm section” of the title is the bass (heart) and drums (breath) that must control the action, especially of a shooter. Stephanie starts OK but soon champs under Law’s leadership and freelances a bit, with some success. She also applies her lesson on where to kick an assailant, and it isn’t in the kneecap!
The film has several erotic moments such as every time Stephanie meets a new man: Will she kiss him or kill him? That question is one of many that keeps the wire of suspense taut, along with Stephanie’s reluctant participation in necessary violence.
Lively starts highly bruised and cut up, finishing gorgeous, but with lots of travail in between. Law’s part is somewhat thankless—his main role turns out to be as a trainer, but as we said, this is Blake Lively’s movie. She survives a hellacious car chase in Tangier that she should not survive—one of the better chase scenes of the year and thank heaven as the film would be lost without her!
Gretel and Hansel (PG-13)
Awful! With that warning, let me spend a precious few minutes, seconds, nanoseconds, dealing with this horrible waste of film. A takeoff on the classic fairy tale, this one simply puts sister and little brother in a scary A-frame with a witch, Holda (Alice Krige), and scares them. Gretel is actually an American, Sophia Lillis, but most of the cast has vague Irish accents. That may make it sound mysterious, but it also smothers much of the dialogue in weirdness that this film doesn’t need.
The film is based on weirdness: strange camera angles, strange sets that are too large for the actors, stark synthesized music, strange shapes that appear out of nowhere and go nowhere, and a plotless mess that never figures itself out. This may be the most wasted 90 minutes I have ever spent on a Friday afternoon, save for the long nap I took after a tough workout in the gym. But from that I awoke refreshed.