Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow

Blake Lively changing wigs and exacting vengeance in ‘Rhythm Section’ is not lively

- BY MICHAEL PHILLIPS TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

In the new thriller “The Rhythm Section,” Blake Lively and Sterling K. Brown share a scene in which Lively, as bulletfor-hire and perpetual wig-changer Stephanie Patrick, discusses possible employment opportunit­ies with Brown, who plays a shadowy fixer with internatio­nal connection­s. Our heroine’s ultimate target: a radical Islamic terrorist who may be responsibl­e for killing her entire family aboard a jet airline attack.

In all their scenes, Lively and Brown talk like they’re in a spy movie: Comically low tones, so questions sound like statements. Statements that sound like two people trying to fool the polygraph. It’s a battle of the deadpan mutterers, and the actors are highly trained in the art of portraying chameleons with plenty to hide.

“The Rhythm Section” doesn’t have much to say; it’s more about nonverbal suffering and atmosphere, and it certainly has a distinctiv­e, ashen-toned look to show for itself. The material, equal parts Mata Hari and Jason Bourne, is another story. You could call it tried and true, or you could call it tired and false.

‘The Rhythm Section’

› Rating: R for violence, sexual content, language throughout and some drug use

› Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes

› Theater: Regal Hamilton Place, AMC Classic Battlefiel­d 10, AMC Majestic 12

Backed by the producers of the James Bond franchise, the project enjoys the advantage of a built-in fan base, although that may be the only thing about director Reed Morano’s film that speaks to straight-up enjoyment. Lively’s character, a Londoner, falls into a tailspin of grief, drugs and prostituti­on following the midair tragedy over the Atlantic. Trained as a cinematogr­apher, Morano leans into the protagonis­t’s suffering in a way that few male directors would’ve favored.

Morano shot part of the gorgeous Beyonce “Lemonade” project, as well as many other films. Here she works with “Widows” and “12 Years a Slave” cinematogr­apher

Sean Bobbitt, one of the best around, to create a palette suited to a fantasy about a woman descending halfway into hell, and assassinat­ing her way out of it.

The look is miserably dank one minute and blindingly sun-baked the next (the film was shot primarily in Ireland and Spain), and you notice it. Published in 2000, Mark Burnell’s debut novel — the first of four Stephanie Patrick adventures — was engineered for the movies, built to attract a bankable actress in a globe-trotting series of assignment­s while changing identities, hairstyles and personae at will.

Lively proved with “The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” that she could run a profitable genre exercise with easy authority. She’s fierce and often affecting here. I wish Burnell’s screen adaptation had found some way around Jude Law’s steely operative “molding” the grieving killing machine into his kind of woman, but the plot, as compressed here, offers no way around it. The one-man commando training camp is located in a remote part of Scotland.

Throughout “The Rhythm Section” Law leaps into frame to choke, punch or wallop Lively as a series of jolly tests, often scored (egregiousl­y) to ironic, upbeat pop tunes. At moments such as these the movie feels like the sternest possible re-enactment of the old Inspector

Clouseau/Cato routine from a “Pink Panther” comedy.

The title refers to what a character from Burnell’s novel (not in the movie) tells Stephanie: “Your heart is the drums, your breathing is the bass … Keep the rhythm section tight and the rest of the song plays itself.” The movie is made well, if you’re buying what it’s selling, and if you don’t consider a story or a script as crucial to the quality of a thriller.

 ?? PARAMOUNT PICTURES ?? Blake Lively stars in “The Rhythm Section,”opening Jan. 31.
PARAMOUNT PICTURES Blake Lively stars in “The Rhythm Section,”opening Jan. 31.

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