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The Rhythm Section misses the beat 

Reed Morano (Meadowland, I Think We're Alone Now) directs Mark Burnell's script about a revenge-seeking woman (Blake Lively) out to kill those who orchestrated a plane crash that killed her family. With the help of a mysterious operative (Jude Law), she assumes the identity of an assassin and tracks down those responsible. (109 min.)

click to enlarge WHO'S U17? Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively, right) searches for the mysterious terrorist known as U17, seeking help from ex-CIA "information broker" Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown). - PHOTOS COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Photos Courtesy Of Paramount Pictures
  • WHO'S U17? Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively, right) searches for the mysterious terrorist known as U17, seeking help from ex-CIA "information broker" Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown).

Glen The film opens with Stephanie Patrick (Lively) creeping up on Lehmans (Richard Brake) to kill him. It's meant to be a tense opening setup before we flash back to Stephanie's pre-killer days, when she's a burned out and broken sex worker who masks her pain with street drugs. She's visited by a "John" named Proctor (Raza Jaffrey) who "just wants to talk," and it's soon clear he's investigating the plane crash that killed Stephanie's family and left her a broken wreck. At first she's not interested and has Proctor violently thrown out of the brothel, but after some flashbacks to her family, she's suddenly ready to learn the truth. So begins a rather slow odyssey as she starts her revenge quest, which doesn't go as planned. She eventually tracks down Proctor's source, the mysterious Ian Boyd (Jude Law), a former MI6 operative who begins her training. She learns how to shoot by controlling her "rhythm section"—her heart, the drums and her lungs, the bass. Then she learns how to fight hand-to-hand. This part of the film drags but also seems rushed—there's no way she'd be "field ready" so quickly. Usually, unbelievability isn't an issue in action flicks, but the problem is director Morano and writer Burnell are trying to make it seem raw and real ... except when a barely trained 120-pound female suddenly becomes a murderous badass. This film's been getting terrible reviews, and I don't think it's quite as bad as it's made out to be, but it's not good either. Lively is game enough, but she's not really a believable assassin. Most of the other characters, including Ian Boyd and ex-CIA "information broker" Mark Serra (Sterling K. Brown) are painfully one-dimensional. Neither of the characters' relationships with Stephanie seem grounded in reality. As an action film, it just feels tepid. If Lively hoped for an action franchise, I think this is destined for a one-off.

Anna You don't become a great assassin just because you have a beef with some bad dudes who killed your family, and therein lies the problem with Stephanie's believability. Flashbacks bring us to a happy holiday time with her family—her mom stroking her hair and face, voicelessly mouthing how beautiful and smart she is, her sister and brother in the usual sibling antics of wrestling and ribbing. One thing is clear—this woman loves her family, and she becomes hopelessly and desperately lost when they're gone. Unfortunately, we don't get more of the story of the in-between. In one moment she's a lost and addicted sex worker who looks both starved and bloated in the way only an on-the-rails addict can, in the next she's free of her former life and killing off the web of responsible parties that led to her family's demise—aka her downfall. She's just not terribly relatable, and her character feels like ... well, a character. I'm a Lively fan in that ride-or-die sort of way; that gorgeous woman doesn't do wrong in my book. Here I was bored and kind of uninterested, and as someone who loves a good revenge flick paired with my deep, dark love of watching the world burn to the ground in the name of justice and fairness, this came off as pretty disappointing. I just couldn't get myself invested.

click to enlarge READY TO KILL Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively, left) is trained by former MI6 operative Ian Boyd (Jude Law). - PHOTOS COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Photos Courtesy Of Paramount Pictures
  • READY TO KILL Stephanie Patrick (Blake Lively, left) is trained by former MI6 operative Ian Boyd (Jude Law).

Glen A lot of the action sequences fall flat, too. There's a pretty brutal fight in a kitchen, but I think the best moment was when she was going after the bomb maker whose device killed her family. They end up on a bus, and there's an explosive vest involved. There's certainly the makings of an effective action thriller in the storyline, and screenwriter Burnell—upon whose first of four Stephanie Patrick novels this film is based—clearly manages to put together books people want to keep reading, so where does the problem lie with this film? Much of Moreno's direction is effective, and her cinematographer background is clear in the forlorn camera work that frames this depressing story, but maybe she's not that great with the action sequences, or maybe Lively's the problem. She's done solid work in films such as The Town (2010), Savages (2012), and A Simple Favor (2018), but this role seems out of her wheelhouse. One snarky review suggested the film starred a bunch of wigs with Blake Lively in a supporting role, and indeed, she dons a lot of wigs, but they didn't strike me as plausible disguises. In the final analysis, the film comes off as half-baked. I love the idea of a woman broken by tragedy who reclaims her agency by exacting vengeance on those who did her wrong, but it didn't work in Jennifer Garner's Peppermint (2018) or Gina Carano's Haywire (2011), though it almost worked in Jodie Foster's The Brave One (2007), though maybe not quite. I wanted to like The Rhythm Section, but I think you can wait for streaming on this one.

Anna The bus scene was the best scene; that guy was a jerk and he deserved to be taken down. There're also some gripping moments when Stephanie is in the bomb maker's house beforehand and sneaking from wall to wall to avoid being seen. Unfortunately, 10 tense minutes cannot make a movie, and this one was desperate for more than what it offered. I've failed to mention Jude Law, but, honestly, he's pretty forgettable here aside from the question of whether he's hero or villain, rivaled only by Serra, who also takes on that role. No one wants to see you as a villain, Randall. Get it together! This film fits a niche—it's great for an exhausted weeknight while you actually scroll your Instagram or play Words With Friends and pay only the slightest attention to the screen. Pretend it's one of those magic eye posters where you have to blur your eyes a bit and cross your fingers that the picture that finally emerges is worth it. For me, The Rhythm Section didn't have the great payout that a 3D elephant popping out of a bunch of psychedelic nonsense does, so I'd skip it until it lands on your lap via streaming device. It's kind of a snooze. Δ

Split Screen is written by Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and his wife, Anna. Comment at


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