In “The Gunman” (a prime contender for the year’s least creative movie title) Sean Penn spends a good deal of time shirtless, displaying bulging biceps and ripped abs that would be impressive on a college student, much less a guy who soon will qualify for a senior discount.
Penn’s walking testimonial to the personal training industry is about the only noteworthy thing in this empty shoot-’em-up. It’s all too clearly an attempt by the two-time Oscar winner to tap into the graybeard action-hero market so effectively explored by Liam Neeson in the “Taken” series.
Heck, “The Gunman” was even helmed by “Taken” director Pierre Morel.
But lightning does not strike twice. It barely flickers.
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Penn plays Jim Terrier, a professional killer. As the film begins, he and his team are living in the civil war-ravaged Congo, posing as security contractors for a big firm building a jungle airstrip.
But when the minister of resources threatens to nationalize the country’s mines, shadowy corporate interests order the man’s assassination. Designated the triggerman, Jim kills with a perfect sniper shot, then is whisked out of the country.
That means abruptly abandoning Annie (the unrelentingly bland Jasmine Trinca), a nurse volunteering in a free clinic. She has been his squeeze for months, unaware of Jim’s real employment. Before fleeing, Jim asks colleague Felix (Javier Bardem), who is posing as an aid worker, to look after her.
Eight years later, Jim is back in the Congo. Apparently he regrets his old life and is genuinely trying to do good by building a desperately needed water system. But an attempt on his life and the realization that other members of his old team have died mysteriously lead him to believe their former employer is cleaning house.
Which leads Jim on a journey first to London and then to Barcelona, where he discovers that Felix and Annie are now married. Before long he and Annie are on the run, pursued by teams of killers.
“The Gunman” is generic moviemaking that can’t be lifted even by some usually solid performing players like Ray Winstone, Mark Rylance and Idris Elba. The action scenes are borderline incoherent.
The film’s greatest sin, though, is that Don MacPherson and Pete Travis’ screenplay (based on Jean-Patrick Manchette’s novel “The Prone Gunman”) gives Penn so little to do. The movies have no shortage of muscled hunks who can run, jump and shoot. But Penn is one of our finest actors.
What a waste.
Read more of Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.
Rated R | Time: 1:55