Directed by Pierre Morel.
Starring John Cena, Alison Brie, Juan Pablo Raba, Alice Eve, Marton Csokas, Christian Slater, Julianne Arrieta, Molly McCann, Daniel Toro, Sebastian Eslava, and Roberto Cano.
An ex-special forces operative takes a job to provide security for a journalist as she interviews a dictator, but, a military coup breaks out in the middle of the interview, they are forced to escape into the jungle where they must survive
It’s a mystery as to who Freelance is for. Coming from director Pierre Morel, known for no-nonsense action revenge flicks such as Taken, the film almost feels like his attempt at crafting something more serious-minded within that wheelhouse, as if to say he is more than a one-trick pony. Considering that Taken rejuvenated Liam Neeson’s career and launched it into a new phase, it’s also easy to see why professional wrestler turned actor (turned professional wrestler again since greedy studios still haven’t struck a deal with SAG) John Cena took a chance signing on to this project.
However, the result (with a script from Jacob Lentz) is a head-scratching disaster that doesn’t so much as mix genres and tones but rather puzzlingly cycles through them with no apparent reason or thematic purpose, desperately hoping something starts to click. Just when you think you have the film pinned down as an action-comedy romp about a private security agent protecting an ambitious journalist in the jungle of a hostile fictional country amid a coup, it doesn’t just introduce dramatic political elements but full-on becomes a political drama for what feels like forever. Honestly, the entire film feels never-ending, even at only 105 minutes.
John Cena is Mason Pettits, a former US Armed Forces soldier now working a soul-crushing job as a lawyer, giving questionable advice to his young daughter on how to confront unwanted kissing (punching them in the throat and the penis), which naturally gets her in trouble at school and his wife (Alice Eve) angry at him. She tells him to leave, which prompts him to accept a job working private security despite his busted back, but here’s the best part: his wife then gets furious with him for leaving. The domestic arguing makes no goddamn sense, so you can only imagine how woeful the political drama is.
That’s beside the point, but I couldn’t resist talking about one of the more baffling scenes in the movie where I knew I was in for something horrendous. John Cena is a capable action star and hilarious, but you wouldn’t know it under the direction of Pierre Morel. If he has no idea what this movie is supposed to be, that doesn’t leave much room for John Cena to figure it out and deliver a performance that hits those tones. Everyone flails through this movie, not necessarily embarrassing themselves but hopelessly trying to elicit laughter or find chemistry with one another. It’s a fool’s errand, especially given how flat the action is; Freelance constantly feels like it’s unfolding in slow motion even though it’s not.
Anyway, Mason is hired by his pal and contractor (Christian Slater) to protect disgraced journalist Claire Wellington (Alison Brie) while she interviews the dictator of a fictional country, Juan Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba), the man responsible for taking out the chopper carrying his squad and destroying his back. It’s a dangerous area, and it turns out that the president is not appreciated by his people, with an uprising underway in other mercenary factions attempting to assassinate him.
Freelance is trying to mine humor from our early realization that Juan Venegas is a good person who cares about the people and who likely was not responsible for what happened to Mason and his team, even if the bodyguard doesn’t see it yet. More bizarrely, there is an attempt to turn this into a romantic comedy with Claire coming onto the separated Mason at one point. The problem is that the actors have zero chemistry with each other, so such plot developments feel random, awkward, and pointless. There isn’t a single element or dynamic here that works, with each new scene and tone shift blurring the lines as to what the hell this movie is, besides a slog that threatens never to end
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com