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Simon Read [Celluloid 07.16.18] scifi fantasy mystery noir

Writer/director Vaughn Stein’s feature debut is many things - it’s energetic, colourful and visually creative - but it is not good. This is a film which starts strong and steadily goes downhill until it reaches piteously low depths. While early reviews had been mixed, I was shocked at how messy this film turned out.

An ensemble piece set in a kind of neon-drenched retro-future - inspired no doubt by Blade Runner and Brazil - the film concerns a group of misfits and gangsters operating in and around a railway terminal.

Margot Robbie is a waitress, part-time stripper and professional hitwoman. She’s tough, like Barb Wire, and sassy, like Tank Girl. She meets a terminally ill teacher (played by Simon Pegg) in the Terminal Cafe where she holds court as sole employee, and together they discuss the best methods of suicide over a few cups of coffee and some vodka.

Meanwhile, two gangsters played by Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons are holed up in a safe house apartment, keeping a low profile as they prepare for a new job, and in the process driving each other crazy.
Mike Myers occasionally cameos as a janitor at the railway terminal, while an unseen puppet-master watches our characters on a bank of television screens somewhere, secretly manipulating events.

Terminal takes place over one evening, and as it unfolds we discover all the various deceptions and treacheries that link its characters together, until we reach the final twist and double-cross.
The problems here are numerous.

The film is almost too easy to pick on. From its overly complicated and confusing plot, stuffed as it is with self-satisfied twists and contrivances, to its unfortunate reliance on neon-noir-style and hollow one-liners over substance , the film never feels satisfying, or even really all that coherent.

I would go as far as to say that Terminal is almost worth seeing just for how much of an absolute car-crash it is. It’s sort of like a Guy Ritchie film that’s been vomited over by a Teletubbie.

Robbie is a good actress with a strong screen presence, but her character here is deeply irritating. She rattles off knowingly trite ‘naughty’ dialogue with a forced cockney twang, and immediately it wears thin.

Like an English version of her own Harley Quinn, Robbie embodies every cliche of the British ladette gangsta gurl. It's supposed to be shocking and badass, and like, 'feminist' too I guess (because she kills people?), but this performance feels extremely smug. I suspect this will be a film she will be happy to forget. (She's credited as producer.)

Fletcher and Irons don’t fare much better. Their characters are straight out of central casting: the cynical, old-dog gangster and his young trainee, constantly snapping insults at one another. Fletcher gets some mileage from acting grumpy and shouting “shut it you soppy wanker” at Irons, but we’ve seen all this before.
Quite what Mike Myers is doing here is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure whether his character was supposed to be funny or simply grotesque (this is partly because none of the jokes in the film work) but his inexplicable presence acts as a sad reminder that once upon a time this man was box office gold.

Probably the only actor who comes away unscathed here is Pegg, playing to his strengths as a brow-beaten loser, and basically getting away with it.

Hyperaggressive and overambitious futuristic gangster comedies like this one live or die on whether or not the audience climbs on board for the ride, and Terminal makes a fatal mistake when it starts to point out how ‘clever’ it is.

Ideally, a twist is something a film gifts its audience; it works when the audience suddenly remember those hidden signposts leading to the revelation - they gasp in realisation and hopefully satisfaction.
When a twist is not signposted, when it is inserted for reasons unconnected to the plot, and therefore carries no impact, when it is in fact discharged with all the grace and subtlety of a fart in a kitchen, then we can be certain that the filmmaker simply wanted us to know that they're clever.

Terminal contains one of the most pointless and stupid twists I’ve ever seen in a film. And then... It throws in another one for good measure! I would honestly not have been surprised if, at the end of the film, the actual Mike Myers had woken up in his house in LA and said, “Wow, what a crazy dream!”

I feel like writing a book about the problems with Terminal - its monotone characters, gaudy visual design, unapologetic and wholesale ripping off of Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino, its non-stop expository flashbacks, glib dialogue and constipated, self-conscious performances.

It may come back to haunt me, but I’m confident in saying that ‘Mute’ is a better film. That feels significant. After seeing this, 'Southland Tales' feels a warm bath.

Terminal is aptly named. To watch it is to watch it die in front of you.

Recommended Release: Terminal

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ChrisRead (4 years ago) Reply

I'll help illustrate that book.

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