INTERCEPTOR is a new straight-to-Netflix action movie with a story in the tradition of an UNDER SIEGE, but a feel more like a (good) DTV movie. You know – you don’t have the scope or production value of those ‘90s studio action programmers that warm our hearts, and you don’t have an army of veteran character actors in the supporting cast, but the trade off is you get fewer explosions and vehicle crashes and more care put into choreographing and executing exciting hand-to-hand duels between the heroine and her various opponents. Less spectacle, but more intimate.
The thing that piqued my curiosity is that this is an action vehicle for Elsa Pataky, who apparently was in BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR and SNAKES ON A PLANE, but I know her as Brazilian police officer Elena in FAST FIVE. Elena falls in love with Dom, but steps aside when Letty turns out to be alive in FAST & FURIOUS 6, and by the time of FATE OF THE FURIOUS she gives birth to Dom’s son and dies. I like her in the FAST movies but she’s not exactly a standout character, so it’s cool to see a movie all about letting her show off.
Pataky plays Captain J.J. Collins, who has just been demoted back to her old job as missile system specialist at SBX-1, a small missile defense platform in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She seems depressed about it but before she’s even unpacked there’s a world-historic emergency situation to deal with: 16 nuclear missiles have been stolen from Russia, and also Fort Greely, the only other American base that can shoot down those missiles, has been taken offline by traitors. So, as Lieutenant Colonel Marshall (Rhys Muldoon, DANNY DECKCHAIR) says, “As of this moment we’re the only interceptor platform protecting the United States from a nuclear missile attack.”
(I always get a kick out of it when characters say stuff more for the audience than the other characters – why would he specify “from a nuclear missile attack” for the people who work there? I would give it more points though if he started with an “As you know—“ or an “I don’t need to tell you that—“)
The entrance to the command center is blocked by two heavy duty doors that require a key card to open. As Marshall is exiting the second door, J.J. realizes they should be looking for moles on the base and then, right there, a crew of janitors pull out guns and kill Marshall. There’s a really good skirmish as J.J. exchanges gunfire with them and closes the door, locking all of them out except one big guy (Steve Morris, THE FURIES), who she battles to the death. (A top shelf kill, too. I won’t give it away in case you haven’t seen the trailer.)
If I hadn’t been sold on the movie yet, this next moment would’ve done it: the guy she killed is wearing a backpack full of sulphuric acid to destroy the circuit boards. It’s leaking, it got on her shirt, so she tears it off to reveal a white tank top beneath. My wife groaned, thinking it was one of those show-off-the-boobs moments, but then agreed it was about showing off how touch she looks (and homaging John McClane). She turns to see the leader of the terrorists watching her through the small window on the door. Then she makes a big show of picking up the key card that would open the door for him, dropping it into the puddle of acid, and strutting back into the command center as it melts.
So now it’s a siege movie, where she’s locked in with two less combat-useful computer guys – the friendly Corporal Rahul Shah (Mayen Mehta who, like all Australian actors, was in an episode of Power Rangers Dino Fury) and the obnoxious Beaver Baker (Aaaron Glenane, from the TV versions of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Snowpiercer), who thankfully is unconscious from being grazed by a bullet(?). She talks to the leader over an intercom as he tries to battle her psychologically and/or get in a different way (such as cutting through the doors with torches.)
The leader is Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey, star of Roger Avary’s LUCKY DAY, also Cobra Commander in G.I. JOE: RETALIATION and Johnny Utah in the POINT BREAK remake you forgot existed until I just mentioned it now and you got kind of mad). He is indeed an American who has engineered a plan to nuke 16 American cities. At first I assumed it was some kind of mercenary reason, but then he starts ranting about “America is the greatest lie ever told” and shit.
I wouldn’t put Bracey’s Kessel in that Eric-Bogosian-as-Eric-Dane category of fun villains, but I think he’s pretty good because he really captures this specific way-too-proud-of-himself type of pseudo-intellectual dude we’ve all encountered. There’s the type of villain like the guy in ONE SHOT who can mostly intimidate you with his stare; this is a guy who’s more about sharing interesting (to him, not you) facts about the fall of Rome, and spouting off his various opinions that he’s so sure are gonna BLOW. YOUR. FUCKIN. MIND. There’s a part later where J.J. tells him to stop mansplaining, and it seems a little forced in the moment, but Kessel is absolutely the type of guy the term was invented for.
One of his better moments of villainy is after he’s killed Captain Welsh (Paul Caesar, FELONY) because J.J. refused his demands. After she says, “I will never open this door,” Kessel draws a frowny face in the blood he just splattered on the window. If I may nitpick, I think this would be more powerful seen from her point of view, but it’s shot from his side of the window. Still – pretty damn good.
From the command center they’re able to communicate with the POTUS (Zoe Carides, STONES OF DEATH, Elvis Costello’s “Veronica” video) and her national security team, and they learn that Navy SEALS are coming to help – but they’re about 90 minutes away. Meanwhile, Kessel hijacks the emergency broadcast so he can go onto every TV screen in the country like the fuckin Joker. The president, people in Times Square, and a famous actor in an amusing cameo as an employee of a Best Buy type store are able to watch what’s going on and root for J.J. to intercept the motherfucker.
This has plenty of the silly shit you expect in a movie of this type (you bet your ass that all the locations are written on the screen in green text that types out with a computery whirring sound) and lots of stuff you have to be forgiving about (some very forced exposition dialogue, radio communications that I’d bet were recorded by crew members in post-production). That’s more of a description than a complaint, though – if an action movie is working on the important levels then some laughable stuff can be a plus. Like, I got a kick out of this one having a looped line where an ensign randomly blurts out “I heard you grew up in Spain at a base your dad was posted at.” Clearly they were worried about Pataky’s accent confusing people if they didn’t specify where it came from. Takes me back to the early Van Damme days. I love it.
In the UNDER SIEGE movies Ryback can be a top soldier but also a rebel because he’s gotten in trouble for things such as punching a superior officer whose decision he says got people killed. J.J.’s version of this is grimmer, but feels right, because it’s something that a male action hero would be unlikely to have to deal with: she got what seemed like a good assignment with a beloved three star general, but he groped her and tried to coerce her into sex. She blew the whistle on him and got him expelled but then received horrific harassment and death threats, plus this shitty re-assignment in retaliation.
For acknowledging that real life problem in the military I’m sure some goofballs will accuse it of being “woke” (formerly an African-American slang term for social awareness, now a nebulous grievance word for the asshole community to lob at anything that scares them). I wish there really was a woke DTV action movie, but I think the politics here are deliberately muddled. There’s a traitor character who’s an anti-immigrant redneck stereotype willing to nuke his own country because, basically, MAGA. He only “swore an oath to the old America. Not this one.” But Kessel’s motive is the opposite, railing against a history of American injustices from Jim Crow to J.J. being sexually harassed to Shah being racially profiled, concluding that “The only way to save our nation and the promise it once held is to erase it.”
I think he’s offered in the tradition of the villain who has a point but is going about it all wrong, rather than as a message that people who have some criticisms of America are bad guys. But I bet they figured if one villain doesn’t believe in America because of its history of racism and the other because he thinks we’re starting to stray too far from our history of racism then they cancel each other out and it can seem topical without actually saying anything.
(It should be noted that this is made mostly by Australians, who may just be humoring us Americans by pretending to care about our shit.)
As is traditional in these movies, Kessel is a case of blowback – he was some kind of military psy-ops expert. I like that when the national security people pull up his background they say he “killed two prisoners while he was torturing them,” but the file on screen says “Investigated over 2 deaths during enhanced interrogation – cleared.” Yeah, that sounds right.
But J.J. is a soldier character who’s easy to get behind: she’s fighting to save millions of people, not for a nation or ideology. She’s an underdog both because she’s outnumber here and because of how she’s been treated in the military. And she’s a total fuckin badass. Pataky clearly did alot of training for the role, and the promotional art centers around a genuinely impressive scene where she does an American Ninja Warrior type feat with the use of only one arm.
The fight coordinator is Tim Wong, who will also be a stunt coordinator on FURIOSA, and who’s one of the people J.J. gets to battle. Second unit director/stunt coordinator Ingrid Kleinig (Margot Robbie’s double in THE SUICIDE SQUAD) also gets a duel with J.J. The great Sam Hargrave (action director of ATOMIC BLONDE and WOLF WARRIOR 2) is credited as “action consultant,” and has a cameo that I missed on the first viewing. Hargrave, of course, directed Chris Hemsworth in the more expensive Netflix action joint EXTRACTION, and Hemsworth is 1) Pataky’s husband and 2) executive producer of this movie. Putting all that BLACKHAT clout to good use.
I appreciate that the score by Michael Lira (WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD, WYRMWOOD: APOCALYPSE) sounds big and orchestral and worthy of a more expensive movie. 9 times out of 10 a movie like this would have much cheesier music. That 1 in 10 adds alot of value.
Australian director Matthew Reilly co-wrote the script with Stuart Beattie (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA, I, FRANKENSTEIN). This is Reilly’s first movie, but he’s a bestselling author. He told The Age that he’d optioned “Oh my God, at least eight” of his books to studios without them ever becoming movies. This time he turned down money to let someone else direct and handled it himself. While it certainly has its rough edges I think he did a pretty solid job here. I like this shot where the terrorists cut through the door and when it falls they’re just standing there in a cool pose.
I respect directors who respect cool poses.
More crucially, Reilly (no doubt influenced by the great action team) does the important work of setting up things for later: the security system on the command center, the trophy that has a gun hidden in it and later is used to stab someone, the screen in the middle of the room that’s the first thing you notice as they walk in…
…and then eventually she throws Kleinig through it.
Or those little beats that give a fight rhythm, as the combatants stop to catch their breath or think before going at it. Like after J.J. has knocked Wong’s character’s gun out a hatch. They exchange a few blows and then separate. There’s a slow zoom in to Wong as he gets into his martial arts stance…
…and then a zoom in on her as she blows a little strand of hair out from over her eye.
And then it’s on again. In that same fight she tips over a refrigerator, it seems like it could be the kill shot, but he rolls out of the way; in a later scene gunmen nervously check that refrigerator, thinking she must be hiding in it. She finally gets a shotgun and fires it, not only sending her opponent flying across the room, but causing herself to slide across the floor in the other direction. It’s the difference between a stunt team that just goes through the motions and one that cares enough to put some spice on it.
Don’t mistake me for saying that INTERCEPTOR is anything new or today’s state of the art of action or anything like that. But it’s the type of thoroughly enjoyable meat and potatoes movie I enjoy, and that I especially appreciate these days, since we don’t get as many of them. I also think since Netflix is the same corporation that purposely sunk piles of venture capitalist cash into an unsustainable rental-by-mail business so that they could kill the video store industry and replace it with streaming, it is their moral, ethical and spiritual responsibility to sink more of their money into this endangered genre that once counted on the video store model to be profitable.
With that in mind I expect and demand more J.J. Collins Interceptor Adventures in the near future. So I’m glad the above-linked article says Reilly has already written another one.