The Gunman **

Three great actors -- Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba. One lousy movie.

Is it worth $10? No           

“The Gunman” starts in 2006 in the Congo. News reports tell us the country’s ongoing civil war is the worst conflict since World War II. But this is not a polemic about the travails of a small, imploding African nation. No, this is about mercenary sniper Jim Terrier (Sean Penn), who’s there to kill people. He’s also in love with girlfriend Annie (Jasmine Trinca), a doctor. The good news for Jim is that he gets to kill the minister of mining. The bad news is he has to leave Annie behind when he skips the country. Win some you lose some. 

Jump to eight years later and we see Jeff Spicoli (Penn's surfer dude character in the 1982 classic "Fast Times At Ridgemont High") Jim surfing, then get viciously attacked. The main conflict kicks into gear as Jim tries to track down those who ordered his murder. In London he talks to old friends Terry (Mark Rylance) and Stanley (Ray Winstone), and in Barcelona he chats with Felix (Javier Bardem), who told Jim to take the shot in the Congo and is now married to Annie. Director Pierre Morel’s (“Taken”) film also takes us to Gibraltar, and you’d think all the traveling would lead to a grand sense of adventure, but you'd be wrong.

Sean Penn is 54 but has the chiseled body of a 21 year-old who works out and watches what he eats. This is Sylvester Stallone-as-Rocky impressive, which has the added benefit of meaning he’s also better looking than all of the bad guys he kills. And for an actor who scoffed at action roles for much of his career, Penn certainly breaks plenty of bones and shoots enough people in the face. It’s as if every blood spurt, punch, knife through the throat and gunshot through the hand is making up for lost time. The fact that it’s rendered in a rather ho-hum way is a bit of a shame; the violence is brutal but there’s nothing novel here – it’s standard action fare.

Speaking of novel, the film is based on a book by the late French author Jean-Patrick Manchette, which perhaps explains why it at times gets overwhelmed with details. The love triangle with Felix weighs the story down, but the real sin is the head trauma that makes Jim a woozy at inopportune times. Whether he endures this or not he’s still going to have arduous battles with bad guys, and a similar effect could be rendered from him getting hit in the head while fighting – we don’t need five minutes with a doctor and an MRI, nor the inconvenient timing of his condition occurring.

“The Gunman” is a heady, grown-up action movie that lacks style and energy. And Idris Elba fans, it lacks him too. Elba may have prominent billing on the poster, but he doesn’t appear until 80-minutes in, and then only sporadically in the remaining 35 minutes. Much like the film itself with its intriguing premise, the filmmakers had something good in their hands and squandered it. 

Did you know?
Penn and Bardem also co-starred in “Before Night Falls” (2000), for which Bardem was nominated for a best actor Oscar.

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