Movie Review: Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

TL;DR – straight forward action thriller with plenty of action but lacking the thrills.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Nothing annoys an assassin more than when the employer they work for sends them on an assignment without the proper intel. When Sam (Karen Gillan) is given a job by her employer, The Firm, and she’s told the target is not heavily guarded, only to find out that the target is heavily guarded, and she has to go all Rambo to get out alive, you can understand she’s peeved.

However, that’s not how The Firm sees it, and they give her another assignment in order for Sam to get back into their good graces. The target this time is a man who has stolen from The Firm. Sam hunts down the thief, shoots him in the abdomen, and then finds out that the man actually stole the money to pay a ransom for his daughter who has been kidnapped. The Firm, of course, doesn’t give a crap about any of this and just wants their money back.

Somewhere in the assassin’s playbook, or perhaps it’s an unwritten rule, you’re to be a mindless, efficient killing machine and not question any orders unless a child is involved (or a dog in case of John Wick). Then all bets are off.

But Sam doesn’t even need much convincing to go against her employer. She’s got mother issues from having been abandoned at the diner where she traditionally shared a milkshake with Scarlet (Lena Headey) who is also an assassin as well as Sam’s mother. So, the last thing she wants is to become like mommy-dearest by abandoning this girl to whatever grisly fate her kidnappers have in store. Also having killed the man who stole the money to save his daughter can leave even the most hardened hit-girl with a mountain of guilt.

The Firm also finds out one of the henchmen that Sam went Rambo on was actually the son of a powerful crime boss, Jim McAlister (Ralph Ineson). Naturally, The Firm wanting to smooth relations over with Jim and company, gives Sam’s location up. Who knew employer loyalty to their assassin proteges was so fleeting?

There’s plenty of potential across the board here. The cinematography is full of colour and quirkiness; Gillan gets to use a bowling ball, a panda bear suitcase and a giant ceramic tooth as weapons; girl-power is in full force as Headey, Angela Bassett (as Anna May), Michelle Yeoh (as Florence) and Carla Gugino (as Madeleine) all join in on the action; Paul Giamatti (as Nathan) plays the face of The Firm; Chloe Coleman (as the kidnapped Emily) is a revelation; and there’s much needed humour from Michael Smiley (as Dr. Ricky) and the three goofy assassins – Ivan Kaye (as Yankee), David Burnell IV (as Shocker) and Jack Bandeira (as Crow).

But for all the potential the story never delivers as it should and there’s way too many (or too long) slow-mo action shots. The trio of Anna May, Florence and Madeleine are under developed, and when Madeleine gets killed, it feels obligatory because one of the female assassins needs to die otherwise there’s no emotional pull… right? But it didn’t matter to me because it felt like they were simply padding out numbers.

The relationship between Scarlet and Sam is also never properly explored. You could remove Scarlet entirely from the story and just have Sam scarred as an abandoned girl at a diner, and you would still have the same film. Headey does what she can with what she’s given, but in the end, she’s like whipped cream on a milkshake; you can remove the whipped cream and still have a milkshake.

Director Navot Papushado has created a film that is more style than substance. Forget about all the plot holes (for example, the diner introduced in the first scene is meant to be neutral ground and no guns are allowed inside, but in the final scene the same diner is filled with every man and woman carrying a firearm), the film could have reached the thrills of a John Wick film even if it was unable to attain the lofty heights of Leon: The Professional.

With all the blood-letting and brutality, there was Tarantino-level action, but the film left behind the Tarantino-level dialogue that would have built the tension and made you care about the characters. Instead, Papushado appears more interested in ensuring each female character gets enough screen time for a slow-mo action scene.

5.5 out of 10

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