Everly (Salma Hayek) is one of these sex slaves who doesn’t know Liam Neeson or Tony Jaa, so she has to take justice into her own hands. Her movie starts right in the thick of things, but we quickly start to piece some of her story together: she’s been kept woman to a Yakuza for four years, taken away from her young daughter, and she can’t stand it anymore. She had an escape planned with a police officer she trusted, but he hasn’t shown up. Now she’s here in the bathroom with one stashed gun and a bag full of money, so she can either kill herself or take that one opportunity that Eminem talks about in that one song.
In a way this is a DIE HARD type movie. It’s one person fighting off many criminals in a contained location, in this case the fancy apartment she’s been stuck in. It’s even Christmas time, though she is not bare foot, so in that sense it’s more like DIE HARD 2. And she can fight better than we probly could, but it’s all tenacity, she’s not a super woman. She gets shot, cut, stabbed, she cries, she messes up, but she keeps fighting.
And hey, don’t worry, there are plenty of people to fight. They just keep coming like there’s a clown car parked outside. There’s alot of Yakuza. There’s her fellow sex slaves (all in different styles of fetishy outfits, I’m afraid) who are threatened or offered a bounty to betray her. There are corrupt cops. There is a weird sadomasochistic torturer guy in a white suit (Togo Igawa from NINJA and SPEED RACER) and even his weirdo victim (Masashi Fujimoto, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE) gets in on the action. Their characters are credited as “The Sadist” and “The Masochist,” but one of them’s gotta be named Miike Homage. Anyway, all these attackers bring a variety of weapons (handguns, machine guns, grenades, swords, sais), pretty much all of which Everly commandeers and uses against them. She keeps trying different approaches, never with the goal of even surviving, but just helping her mother and daughter be safe after she dies.
The stunt coordinator is Akihiro Noguchi, a Power Rangers double who was stunt coordinator for Isaac Florentine’s SPECIAL FORCES and choreographer for his NINJA. I would call this “violence” more than “action,” but it’s well done. There are some close-quarters shootouts, some fisticuffs and grappling, some stabbing, a torture cage, that kind of stuff. The set is very detailed and designed for accommodating cool camera moves, and the CCTV security setup works well for suspenseful sequences where she sees enemies approaching on the monitors or where we watch her sneak through the building, appearing on one monitor after the other, almost escaping. It’s like levels of a video game almost.
Some of the humor seems a little out of place to me, for example the Raimi-esque action montage of getting a guy a glass of water. But there’s one scene that I think gets it exactly right. It’s a pretty elaborate sequence about trying to get her mom and daughter into the building. Fighting a guy in an elevator, impaling him on a sword, and the elevator doors close exactly in time for Mom to walk by without seeing it.
Another clever part is this gimmick of a guy (Akie Kotabe, THE NOVEMBER MAN) sitting on the couch who she shot but he’s not dead yet. He seems to be an asshole but a victim of all this himself, so they develop some type of a friendship. He’s her almost-dead sidekick. He can’t move but he tries to stop Everly’s daughter from seeing anything traumatic.
Director Joe Lynch is known as a horror guy. I liked some aspects of his WRONG TURN 2 (but was really critical of his commentary track, for some reason), didn’t see his disowned comedy KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM, do often enjoy the Movie Crypt podcast he does with HATCHET director Adam Green. It’s no surprise that he seems to delight in the mayhem and show some glee in the unusual disfigurements and digital body choppings that happen in this one. But I do feel a very slight discomfort with the overall tone. It obviously loves its protagonist, wants her to make it through and isn’t using its disturbing women-and-children-in-peril situations lightly. But on the other hand it’s sort of in love with a knowingly cartoonish stereotype of Japanese culture based on movies. Somehow there’s this world of Yakuzas and weird sadomasochists and sex slaves in school girl outfits existing in the States. It’s a world where this type of shit might happen in your apartment building:
So there’s a tension between wanting to make a hollow violence-is-fun, chicks-with-guns-are-hot movie and wanting to tell a story worthy of Salma Hayek. Obviously this is not meant as a gritty portrayal of the criminal underworld. The movie feels like it knows it’s silly and outrageous, which means it thinks it’s fun, right? To me that seems slightly off balance with the seriousness of Everly as a character and what has happened to her.
But I don’t know. Somehow that works in KILL BILL, which brings me to the other minor thing nagging at me. There’s a bit of that influenced-by-Tarantino vibe that for some reason really bothers me, whether it’s fair or not. I mean you can be derivative, but something about Tarantino and Wes Anderson, their styles are so distinct that anybody who is obvious about aping them just seems like a poser. Luckily I didn’t feel too much of that here, but the emotional pay-off ends up being very similar to KILL BILL’s. It’s only natural for the story, but it forced me to think oh, okay, hyper-violent woman-vs.-gangsters movie juxtaposed against motherhood and a cute little girl who seems unaware of the savagery all around her – yeah, I’ve seen that once before. And that took me out of that crucial moment.
But overall I did enjoy EVERLY, and alot of that comes down to Hayek. If she’s had good roles in recent years outside of SAVAGES I sure haven’t seen them, so it’s exciting to see her in a movie that’s all her. Obviously Hayek is over-the-top sexy, especially while beating up dudes. I’m not gonna pretend she offers some challenge to Hollywood’s unrealistic beauty standards, but it‘s still cool to see an action role for someone so womanly. She’s not a waif, and she’s in the second half of her forties, and she’s awesome. You don’t see that enough in movies.
More imporantly it’s a challenging performance, doing all that action but not in a posing-with-guns type of way. It’s more her (and her stunt double) getting knocked around. And then it’s all the emotions and what not too. The easier “real acting” stuff. Whether or not she gets better movies than this, I hope she keeps getting roles this good.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.