“Beckett” is a piece of pulse-pounding poppycock whipped up as a star vehicle for John David Washington. It’s got enough going for it that I’d like to recommend it. But I have reservations. Boy, do I ever.
The title character and his girlfriend (Alicia Vikander) are touring Greece in the off-season — winter. But protests in the country, beset by debt, an immigration crisis and just a whiff of violent strains of nationalism, are always in season. That’s why Beckett and April have abandoned Athens for the ruins and mountain scenery of the north.
That’s where they are when he dozes off at the wheel, rolls their rental SUV, and wakes up in a hospital. April has died, and Beckett is all alone with the guilty knowledge that it was his fault. He can’t even admit to her family that she’s dead, yet.
Alone in a country where he doesn’t speak the language, he can’t even grieve properly.
A local cop (Panos Koronis) is there to make matters worse. Beckett saw something before passing out, and that gets the cop’s interest.
When our weepy, broken-armed tourist revisits the accident scene — the Chevy rolled into a house — and a woman starts shooting at him, the cop joins in. For an African American, just like…home?
“There’s nowhere to ruuuun, Beckett,” he shouts, like every C-list villain in screen history.
But there is somewhere to run, as Beckett flees cross-country, hoping to get to the sanctuary of the American embassy, and hoping as well to figure out who these people are who want him dead, and why.
The screenplay’s great virtue is in making our hero Everyman. He’s not Liam Neeson or any variation of the “man with particular skills” cliche. But tech guy Beckett endures shootings, stabbing and beatings as he makes insane, self-injuring leaps in his dogged determination to survive.
Nothing is made of him trying to lay low in a country where he stands out, even without the arm cast and blood stains.
The screenplay’s silliest shortcut is the way it dispenses with the language barrier. Shouting “Do you speak English? DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?” is all it takes for this hunter, that beekeeper, those activists, to display their mastery of another tongue.
Director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino (“Antonia.” was his) stages some splendid fights and decent escapes. But most of them have a whiff of “far fetched” about them, as do the trite tropes that turn up in the plot.
And then there’s the matter of our leading man. I’m trying hard to like Washington, or at least hope he gets better film to film. His acting indicators are obvious, with too many gestures and looks playing as clumsy and unschooled. Take away his father Denzel’s good name and he’s just another good-looking failed jock, still not much of an actor.
None of this film’s shortcomings took me totally out of it. Movies on the lam are my favorite. I was drawn into the story, in spite of its “Oh come now” moments when our hero gets a break, or avoids having every bone broken by doing something nobody who has a choice would hazard.
But this is Washington’s fourth major starring role, and nobody seems willing to tell him he’s the weakest link in most of the movies he’s landing, or convince him to do something about it.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, sexual situations
Cast: John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Vicky Krieps and Boyd Holbrook
Credits: Directed by Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, script by Kevin A. Rice. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:48