“Crisis” is an opioid thriller that comes out on the heels of “Body Brokers,” more of an explanatory drama about the other end of this pharmaceutical calamity — addiction’s rehab racket.
“Body” angles to be a “Blow” on this broader subject, a “Big Short” of opioids, and more of less gets by. “Crisis” has hints of “Traffic” in its ambitions.
And damn, typing out that analogy and checking the release dates of the earlier drug movies is chilling. Twenty years ago it was cocaine, today’s its oxycodone. “Progress.”
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (“Arbitrage”) pokes at this monkey on America’s back through three interlocking stories.
The pipeline through Canada that brings Chinese oxy South is shifting to the next drug — Fentanyl. Armie Hammer plays a DEA agent undercover and closing in on a bust, pressured by his boss (Michelle Rodriguez) to produce results on a short deadline. America is losing 100,000 people a year to overdose deaths.
We see the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) grab a courier trekking through snow south of Montreal, chasing him down by chopper and snowmobile. That wasn’t part of the plan.
And our DEA agent? He’s taking this personally. His little sister (Lily-Rose Depp) is a junkie, something Agent Kelly goes to great lengths to hide, sneaking around to visit her in rehab.
A single mom in Detroit (Evangeline Lilly) has her hockey-mad teen stop off at the store for her, and never come home. He turns up as a corpse, another victim of an oxy overdose.
And a Detroit college professor (Gary Oldman) runs a university lab that’s testing a new “miracle” “non-addictive” painkiller pushed by a Big Pharma (Luke Evans, Veronica Ferres and Martin Donovan). He’s a wit in the classroom and an efficient grant-money magnet and corporate rubber-stamp in the lab. But damn, this Klaralon stuff triggers rats into addiction that kills them within days. You’d hope the FDA would care about that.
As the film skips back and forth in settings (Jarecki doesn’t ID them, but lets us figure them out), we see a mother hunt for her son, and weep in her sister’s (Mia Kirshner) arms when they find him in the morgue, She wants answers. Maybe she wants revenge.
“David wasn’t on drugs. I would know!”
The juggling DEA agent has to keep a lot of scary people happy as he sets up a pill mill with “corrupt doctors” to convince a Canadian kingpin and his own Armenian mobsters to do business. And keep his sister in rehab and off drugs.
“Don’t start with that ‘paranoid’ s–t with me!”
And the professor watches his career go up in flames for slowing the roll of Big Pharma.
“How could they not have caught this?”
This is probably the last Armie Hammer movie we may see for a while, and he’s good enough in this latest action guise to make us a little wistful over what he did to his career, all over some cannibalistic kink. I knew he was biting that damned peach with a little too much gusto.
Lilly got a nice career bounce out of “Ant-Man,” and plays a lovely moment of grief that’s real and almost wrenching, here. The role is underwritten, as are most of the parts in this shuffling, moving puzzle.
Oldman can play this professor in his sleep, but doesn’t. He has some nice moments of conscience and some civilized testy conflict with his university boss, another villainous shill on Greg Kinnear’s resume.
The three stories could each have been their own movie, and probably a more compelling one than this mash-up turns out to be. Everybody gets in everybody else’s way for the first two and a half acts.
But the ending has a satisfying punch to it. That’s not a wholehearted endorsement of this mixed-bag, but it’s the best I can do.
MPA Rating: R for drug content, violence, and language throughout
Cast: Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Gary Oldman, Kid Cudi, Mia Kershner, Michelle Rodriguez, Martin Donovan, Lily-Rose Depp, Veronica Ferres and Greg Kinnear.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Nicholas Jarecki. A Quiver release.
Running time: 1:58