Free Fire falls flat

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - CALUM MARSH

It’s fool­ish to de­scribe an artist’s ca­reer in terms of its tra­jec­tory, as though it were pos­si­ble for any­one to plot out an oeu­vre. Art sim­ply doesn’t yield to long-term plan­ning.

Still, where Ben Wheatley is con­cerned, one is tempted. The English di­rec­tor seemed to chart a course across the seas of cre­ative cir­cum­stance, shores of the canon in the dis­tance.

A kitchen-sink crime com­edy (Down Ter­race) be­gat a hor­ror film about a hit­man’s brush with the oc­cult (Kill List). A road­movie farce (Sight­seers) oc­ca­sioned a pivot into coun­try­side psychedelia (A Field in Eng­land), as a main­stream sci-fi pic­ture (High-Rise) loomed on the horizon. This was an aus­pi­cious route through choppy wa­ters Wheatley de­vised for him­self, if in­deed he did de­vise it.

An un­char­i­ta­ble critic might re­gard such a voy­age as a self­con­scious demon­stra­tion of Wheatley’s ver­sa­tile tal­ent that smacks of sly ca­reerism. Could

he re­ally be so wily? I shouldn’t want to spec­u­late, but Wheatley’s lat­est ef­fort, the spare, plain-sail­ing, un­mis­tak­ably slen­der ac­tion pic­ture Free Fire, cer­tainly bears out the hy­poth­e­sis.

Free Fire gamely thrashes in the shabby cav­ern of a dis­used Bos­ton ware­house in the late 1970s.

Its premise, light on shading and de­tail, more closely re­sem­bles the out­set of a mul­ti­player video game than a proper fea­ture film: two teams of five — one group nom­i­nally IRA, the other deal­ing in arms — de­scend upon a neu­tral lo­ca­tion and pro­ceed to shoot upon one an­other in­dis­crim­i­nately.

It’s an ac­tion movie in which both he­roes and vil­lains are un­able to walk or even stand. This en­tails much crawl­ing about and whing­ing. It’s meant to be funny, but it isn’t very long at all be­fore the film has ex­hausted the joke.

Free Fire is a film of lim­ited imag­i­na­tion; he stages and shoots the ac­tion with nei­ther clar­ity nor panache, mud­dling the ar­range­ment of bod­ies in a room and never en­dow­ing the vi­o­lence with soul.

Free Fire is a film of lim­ited imag­i­na­tion, writes Postmedia’s Calum Marsh.

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