MOVIE REVIEW: Atomic Blonde is a visually appealing mess
ATOMIC Blonde is based on a graphic novel series but it plays out like Charlize Theron's two-hour audition tape for the role of James Bond.
Adopting a cutglass accent and a world-weary demeanour, looking great in eveningwear as she swills vodka (on the rocks - Martinis are for wimps) and kicking all kinds of butt in hand-to-hand combat, Theron makes a pretty convincing case for a 007 gender flip.
She's even a lady-killer, romping through an already highly publicised love scene with the adoring French agent played by The Mummy's Sofia Boutella.
Oddly enough, all the men in the film only seem to want to kill her. Are they blind?
It's 1989 and Theron's character, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, is under interrogation by her aptly named boss, Gray (Toby Jones, in an identical role to the one he played in earlier espionage outing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), as well as a CIA powerbroker, Kurzfield (John Goodman).
In flashback, Lorraine recounts her recent mission to Berlin to retrieve a list of names stolen by a KGB assassin.
In the wrong hands, the list would compromise operatives worldwide. (Yes, it is the oldest plot device in the spy's handbook.)
The visually appealing but largely incoherent story that unfolds on both sides of the Iron Curtain involves a reckless British agent (James McAvoy, unusually irritating), a would-be Stasi defector (Eddie Marsan), an inscrutable watchmaker (Til Schweiger) and a large number of German and Russian thugs for Lorraine to clobber, shoot and (in one instance) stab in the face with a set of car keys.
There is one dizzying, very impressive fight scene that keeps the camera on Lorraine for several minutes without cutting as she dispatches half a dozen baddies and almost collapses with exhaustion by the end.
It's almost worth sitting through the entire movie just to see it.
Director David Leitch, a former stuntman who steered Keanu Reeves' supercool action vehicle in John Wick, is clearly his best self when in the midst of raw, human violence.To be sure, Atomic Blonde's Cold War intrigues provide next to no interest, rendered even more pointless by the fact the Berlin Wall is about to come down.
The 1980s setting is simply an excuse for a retro aesthetic with lots of pink and blue neon and a non-stop playlist of vintage Europop by the likes of New Order, Depeche Mode, Bowie, A Flock Of Seagulls and Nena (she of German crossover hit 99 Luftballons).
Come to think of it, the music is kind of great, but hugely distracting, as if a nostalgic DJ had set up decks in a corner of the cinema, uninvited.
Here's a tip: skip the movie, buy the soundtrack.
Atomic Blonde opens today.
Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella.
Director: David Leitch
Verdict: 2.5 stars