Imagine a psychedelic 70s action movie, made in the present day. Now imagine that it was the most ridiculously violent thing you’ve ever seen.
Bingo. You’ve got Gunpowder Milkshake.
This new action/comedy from Netflix stars Karen Gillan as Sam, an assassin who loses the protection of a powerful guild after a job goes south. So she gives herself a new mission — protecting Emily (Chloe Coleman), the spunky eight (and three quarters) year old daughter of one of Sam’s targets. This is set in a world with a hospital, library and diner specifically for hitmen (and, more importantly, women) — very clearly inspired by John Wick and Hotel Artemis, just a few of the many influences that the film boasts.
While I generally enjoyed this movie (mostly because of the visuals), it’s one of the singularly most stylistic piece of filmmaking I’ve seen in a long time. It’s almost as if Gunpowder Milkshake is trying too hard in that regard — even the blood is in higher contrast, just like in Kill Bill (though not quite as pink as Tarantino’s). The first half is certainly hyper-stylized, but then it trails off, seemingly noncommittal. However, with a vastly impressive action-packed one-shot near the film’s conclusion, it gets right back on track. Clearly, director Navot Papushado and cinematographer Michael Seresin had some ideas for this movie, and nothing was off the table.
The film also doesn’t commit too well to any sort of message, electing to convey some vague lesson about the importance of family. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before, probably because it’s been done to death in other films and franchises (Fast & Furious immediately comes to mind). I do appreciate the relationship between Sam and Emily, though — Coleman is one of the best parts of the movie, and for good reason; the trend of precocious kids in action movies continues to work very well.
The cast, while full of A-listers and B-listers alike, continues to confound me. You’d think that Karen Gillan, Lena Headey (Cersei from Game of Thrones), Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Paul Giamatti all together could make some magic. I still don’t understand why it can’t seem to click for me — everybody does the best they could, even though Karen Gillan is clearly still trying to ditch her Scottish accent. Ralph Ineson, playing the one-dimensional villain, is great, as always, but unfortunately he’s not in it enough to save the film from (likely) fading into obscurity.
It’s not all bad, though — Gunpowder Milkshake packs an absolutely killer soundtrack, both in terms of music and score. While I admit it’s an odd choice to play mariachi music during fight scenes, it fits in perfectly with the film’s aesthetic. The action is very well-choreographed, and the use of color is utterly gorgeous. As I said before, the cinematographer (Seresin) was at the top of his game — it’s probably the most well-done of the film’s technical elements. It seems like the presentation was valued more than the story, though — some of the character motivations don’t line up when you really think about it, but It’s all in the name of bridging one action spectacle to another.
It wears its influences on its sleeves and its cast is (oddly enough) an afterthought, but Gunpowder Milkshake’s action and incredibly brutal violence is impressive enough that I’m willing to overlook some of its other flaws. There are much better action movies, but there are also much worse ones. Take your pick. [Grade: B]
Director: Navot Papushado
Rated: R for strong bloody violence throughout and language