Anthony Mackie plays a robotic super soldier who develops an agenda of his own in “Outside the Wire,” a generic and draggy thriller built on firefights, digital effects and bad robot jokes.
‘”Did your motherboard freeze?” Stuff like that.
Damson Idris of TV’s TV’s “Snowfall” is a drone pilot in the not-that-distant future who watches Marines engaged in peacekeeping shoot-outs in Ukraine while chewing Gummy Bears. He’s focused, but dispassionate. And yet he countermands orders to save a couple of platoons at the loss of two Marines, pulling the trigger on a Hellfire missile too early.
That’s what gets Harp sent from Nebraska, where he sits in a trailer and flies remotely all day, to the conflict zone. That’s why he has to report to Captain Leo.
“Experientum auctoritati” it’s called, a little on-the-ground learning the “authority of experience.”
“I don’t have any specialist training” the Air Force drone pilot whines.
“Don’t worry,” the Captain says, peeling off his shirt. “I’m special enough for both of us.”
Get a load of the captain’s technobody. He’s a cyborg of sorts, a one-man mission who travels behind enemy lines procuring weapons of mass destruction from the Russian backed warlord (Pilou Asbæk)making all the mayhem. Harp is about to get his feet wet and his hands dirty.
The threat of global destruction hangs over their mission, and the mistrust of the smart pilot for the machine he’s subordinate to. This 2036 war zone has combat robots engaged on both sides, “Gumps” that look like “Star Wars” battle bots. Leo is just the next generation of that.
But he’s an African American robot because that’s less menacing, with a face strangers “trust” that helps de-escalate tense situations. He’s helpful to aid workers like Sofiya (Emily Beecham), and doesn’t mind entering those life-threatening scenarios because he’s not actually alive.
Of course, that lowers the stakes in every firefight in this thriller by the Swedish director of the John Cusack horror dramedy “1408.” Mikael Håfström may make good use of a effects with decently choreographed stunts. But the dialogue is heavy on the exposition and explication, all these “Here’s how I’m programmed to make decisions” stuff mixed in with bad robot jokes.
“Who programmed you to curse so much?”
Idris doesn’t give us a character arc that the screenplay half leaves out, this callous kid-pilot nicknamed “Gummy Bear” learning this new thing — “It’s called compassion.”
Mackie always gives fair value, but this seems silly and beneath him, even though he’s done time in the Marvel universe.
Every action film that doesn’t come off shares the same shortcoming — pace. Pace denotes urgency and in a slack picture like this, slashes the running time and raises the stakes. But when digital gadgets are doing most of the shooting and the actors are here just for lame one-liners…
The prosecution rests.
MPA Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly and Pilou Asbæk
Credits: Directed by Mikael Håfström, script by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:56