GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE
(**½)-VITO CARLI

"...left me feeling somewhat empty and wanting more"

Goes Down Well But It's Not Filling

(091021) Gunpowder Milkshake is a somewhat entertaining but spotty female empowerment action film which is reminiscent of Kill Bill, the John Wick films and most of all Birds of Prey. The film has been extremely popular, and there are already plans to shoot a sequel. It was directed and co-written by the acclaimed Israeli film maker, Navot Papushado who made a mini film that was included in horror anthology The ABCs of Death, as well as the feature length Big Bad Wolves, which Quentin Tarantino called the best film of 2013.

Gunpowder Milkshake could not have had a much better cast. Dr. Who graduate and
Guardians of the Galaxy star, Karen Gillan, is fine playing Sam, a hired killer with a conscience. She is ably supported by Leana Heady as her morally ambiguous mom. Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeah, and Angela Bassett are also featured as members of an all-female league of assassins. Everyone is usually far better than the material at hand.

It is always good to see the Malaysian actress, Michael Yeah in anything, but it is disheartening to see one of the best action stars ever (see Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Supercop and The Heroic Trio) reduced to playing an older generic Asian woman who spends all her time shooting people in a role which could have been played by anyone. I hope she has a better part in Marvel's Shang-Chi, and The Legend of the Ten Rings. You can also see her actually act in 2018's Crazy Rich Asians.

Paul Giamatti who has made a whole career playing mostly scumbags is the HR (Human Resources) director of the criminal firm who initially seems to like Sam and acts fatherly towards her, but he ultimately must answer to his bosses, so he must have her killed or risk death himself when she fails in a mission.

The film is about a girl named Sam whose mom is a hired killer who (surprise) grows up to be an assassin. She has not seen her mom for years and has angry feelings toward her. But there is more to the story than meets the eyes and her anger toward her mom might be somewhat misplaced. The film’s trajectory changes when the now grown-up Sam commits a compassionate act. She blows a chance to complete her mission to retrieve money that was stolen by the mob because she feels sorry for a little girl named Emily and risks everything to save her. Even worse she accidentally kills the son of her Mafioso employer. Of course, half the planet comes after her to kill her for getting soft and betraying her mission. So all the time she is trying to avoid violent death, she is trying to be a good role model than the little orphan girl she saved. An ongoing joke is despite exposing the little girl to constant barrages of the bloody, gut-wrenching violence the assassins refuse to swear and they use words like “fudge” in front of the girl.

There is a spectacularly inventive sequence that is so riveting that it may make the film worthwhile for some people. At one point Sam gets injected with some kind of drug that makes her lose control over her arms. So she asks Emily to tape a knife to one of her hands and a gun to the other, and with limited mobility she must face down a trio of killers with her martial arts know-how. Since Sam temporarily can’t drive, she must also guide Emily who has never driven before through a high-speed car chase. This scene is as exciting as anything I have seen in any recent action film. Another really good moment occurs when a sweet mom and daughter assassin team look into each other’s eyes during a scene of carnage and the daughter says, “There is no one I would rather be killing people with than you.” The film could use more scenes and lines like this.

All this may bring up some questions in the viewers. Just because Sam let her maternal instincts take over and did one good deed does this make up for a lifetime of assassinations? Does the fact that the women in the film kill only misogynist hoods make it all ok? The viewers must temporarily turn off part of their brains to see anyone in the film, even momentarily as heroes. It is kind of like The Wild Bunch because one group of killers is just a little bitter than the other.

Unfortunately, the script seems a little half-baked at times, and it frequently veers into non campy stupidity. I was able to accept the absurdities in Kill Bill and
Birds of Prey more because they were so over the top, we knew we were watching camp plus Tarantino's work is so smartly self-referential. But the plot and script here are just an excuse for sometimes well-choreographed fight scenes.

Despite some good early moments, the film devolves in the end into an endless scene of the all-female protagonists improbably slaughtering endless seas of male hoods. While this is initially exciting (for the first half of the film) after a while it made me numb. I know that expectations are lower for Netflix films, there must be something better on somewhere.

Overall, this film falls into the region between good and average. On some days and under the right circumstances I could even see myself giving this film three stars. If you loved
Birds of Prey and the second Suicide Squad you might like this. But the film is too much like what is named after. It tastes good and it goes down well, but it is not particularly filling or nutritious (at least not in any intellectual sense), and it is not particularly memorable. Even though the film works half the time and has some memorable and genuinely exciting action scenes, it left me feeling somewhat empty and wanting more.
 

Directed by:    Navot Papushado
Written by:    Screenplay by Navot Papushado and Ehud Lavshi
Starring:    Karen Gillan, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett
Released:    071421
Length:    114 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for graphic violence and some inappropriate
 language
Available on:     At press time film is available for viewing on
 Netflix, and it is in limited release at some theatres.

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE © 2021 AI-Film
Review © 2021 Alternate Reality, Inc.