Ben Wheatley’s tedious tribute to gunplay, “Free Fire,” is a self-indulgent and meaningless exercise in genre and style. It seems to be born from the idea that it would be a kick in the pants to outfit a posse of great actors in ugly 1970s duds and have them relentlessly shoot at each other in a crumbling factory for an hour and a half.
That’s it. That’s the whole idea. Some fun.
Starring Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, Cillian Murphy and Sam Riley, the setup is thin at best. Justine (Larson) and Ord (Hammer) broker a gun deal between an ostentatious South African, Vernon (Copley), and a member of the Irish Republican Army (Murphy). Things go south when Vernon’s driver (Jack Reynor) recognizes the other driver (Sam Riley) as a junkie dirtbag who assaulted his female cousin at a nightclub the night before, and suddenly everyone’s shooting at each other.
There’s not one shred of suspense or tension throughout — the geography of the shootout is chaotic and confusing as the characters crawl and writhe on the floor of the destroyed factory, sweaty and bloody and dirty, shooting willy-nilly. One shouts that he doesn’t know what side he’s on anymore, and it’s a relatable feeling — as audience members, we don’t know what side anyone is on anymore, and it doesn’t even matter.
The dialogue wants to embody gangster movie cool, but punchlines get lost in the jumble of atrocious accent work and the pew-pew of bullets ricocheting. The best lines go to Hammer, who isn’t funny. Copley is funny, but he doesn’t get many humdingers. The worst part of the screenplay is Justine. As the only woman, she has to endure an onslaught of bad pickup lines and crass comments about violence against women.
“Free Fire” isn’t the first film to traffic in ironic gratuitous violence, but it’s an empty homage, a hollow pastiche. It’s a Tarantino-esque, “Goodfellas”-inspired tribute to 1970s gangster movies, but it possesses none of the spiritual torment of Martin Scorsese and not a drop of the smarts of Quentin Tarantino. It tries to be parody and tribute at the same time and can’t reconcile those conflicting impulses.
Without soul or wit, we’re left with nothing but bad Halloween costumes and artillery. Nostalgia never felt so bad.
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use. 1:30. Fayette Mall, Hamburg.