So how do we compartmentalize and allegorize “Gunpowder Milkshake,” the hit-woman action “comedy” starring Karen Gillan?
“Joanna Wick?” “Gloria” at half speed? “La Femme Samantha?” “Sin City” sans most sins?
Set in a lurid, neon-soaked underworld of gangs, gangsters and “The Firm,” just another mob with a “keep order” ethos, meet-ups are at “The Diner,” a ’50s themed joint that’s been there for ages and the waitress Rose always asks “Can I lighten your load for you?” as a polite way of disarming the armed.
Our hitwoman goes to The Library where mild-mannered “librarians” (Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino and Angela Bassett) check out Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf classics with pistols hidden in the pages.
“This girl needs to do some READING.” So “Joanna Wick” it is.
Sam, played by Freya Allen as a teen, never quite got over mommy abandonment issues. Splitting milkshakes at The Diner was their routine. Then Mommy (Lena Headey) had to fend off attackers out for revenge for her latest job, and kisses her off with an “I have to disappear for a while.”
Fifteen years later, Sam (Gillan) has taken over Mom’s duties with Nathan, “HR director with The Firm” (Paul Giamatti, of course). But there’s this one job that goes sideways. Some “accountant stole from us.”
“How much did he take?”
“Enough to earn to a visit from you.”
It turns out the guy did the stealing under duress. The villains have his little girl (Chloe Coleman). Shooting him only makes things worse. Motherless/Daddyless Sam has to make this good.
Nothing else goes according to “plan.” Nothing ever does in these movies.
It’d be easy to get behind the movie’s latest twist on empowered equal opportunity mass murder if there was much more to this than the slow-footed slaughter.
The cutesy “mothering” touches are insipid in this setting.
There aren’t many jokes, and most of those don’t land. Gillan’s shown a wry, deadpan side in the “Jumanji” movies. It doesn’t play here. The lack of big ticket charismatic villains, the Netflix thriller brand (alas) is also a minus. The fights have a half-speed, edit-the-fight-choreography-to-cover feel.
I really enjoyed a goofy/bloody slo-mo-due-to-drugs brawl at a spotless white dentist’s office where the doctor (Michael Smiley) is an after-hours mob surgeon. But an underwhelming car chase/shoot-out follows that.
The dialogue is amusing enough, here and there. “”A girl made the three of you look like ‘The Walking Dead.'”
The “give every name actress a big fight moment” pays off, even if it’s kind of spoiled by draping Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” over one brawl, and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” over another. That, like every excessive Bowling Alley Beatdown or Death Comes to the Diner screams “trying too damned hard.”
All that said, if Israeli B-movie maker Navot Papushado (“Rabies,” “Big Bad Wolves”) had kept this thing on its feet and sprinting — fewer pauses for motherly pathos, Spaghetti Western face-offs, etc. — “Milkshake” would have gone down easier, no matter how much gunpowder was used.
MPA Rating: R for strong bloody violence and profanity throughout.
Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Paul Giamatti, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, Freya Allen and Carla Gugino.
Credits: Directed by Navot Papushado, script by Ehud Lavski and
Navot Papushado A Canal+ film, a Netflix release.
Running time: 1:54