Here’s the peculiar thing about ‘Survivor’: It’s an action movie both too somber to offer much fun and too stupid to ever take seriously. The folks involved clearly thought they were going to kick off a new Jason Bourne-like political action series, only this time from an anti-terrorism perspective. Then they changed their minds and thought they’d just go for a silly ’90s-style action movie with explosions and cameos. Then they decided to combine the two tones and ended up with a muddled mess.
The consistently better-than-her-movies Milla Jovovich stars as a Foreign Service Officer brought over to London in an attempt to preempt a possible New York terrorist attack. She’s quickly introduced to a few faceless workmates who essentially have “Kill me” signs on their backs, and Robert Forster as the recognizable actor with nothing to do who just might be up to something. Wouldn’t ya know it? There’s a big ol’ explosion that kills everyone except for Jovovich, who is quickly framed for the boom-boom.
Pierce Brosnan then pops up as a super-duper terrorist with plans to blow New York sky high. He fruitlessly attempts to murder Jovovich whenever she isn’t outrunning her former colleagues (led by Dylan McDermott). A bunch of somewhat competent action scenes follow, barreling toward an inevitable conclusion that anyone who has ever seen an action movie before can predict from a mile away. Once the whole stupid enterprise finally comes to an end, an oddly serious title card pops up dedicating the film to anti-terrorist officers who have prevented a vast number of terrorist attacks since 9/11, despite the fact that the movie that proceeded it showcases that exact group as easily corrupted and duped nincompoops who aren’t very good at their jobs. Yes, this dumb movie doesn’t make a lick of sense.
There are times when the absolute insanity of the film’s screenplay is at least good for a few campy laughs. That final title card will certainly send audiences out of the theatre chuckling, and scenes like Brosnan’s mysterious invisibility being explained by reconstructive surgery (that’s one hell of a surgeon) or Jovovich somehow sneaking through U.S. Customs as Public Enemy Number One with a face covered in scars because she’s wearing glasses offer some big howls. Unfortunately, the movie just isn’t quite stupid enough to be worth ironic appreciation.
Director James McTeigue (who debuted with ‘V for Vendetta‘ and has been making progressively worse movies ever since) simply can’t decide what movie he wants to make. He plays some scenes far too dramatically and some scenes far too stylized. Massive plot holes pile up. (At one point, Brosnan blows up an entire abandoned building in London to test his latest weapon, but no one on the anti-terrorism task force bothers to investigate or even discuss what happened.) And the limited budget really shows in a few clumsy action sequences that barely give an impression of the planned bang-bang thrills and often feel incomplete.
At the center of it all, Milla Jovovich is the best part of a bad movie yet again, somehow investing a nothing role with genuine pathos. It’s truly a tragedy that Jovovich has never gotten an action vehicle worthy of her acting chops and butt-kicking abilities. With the interwebs clamoring for a female superhero, it’s weird that no one noticed that Jovovich already is one. Instead, she’s stuck slumming in utter mediocrity and trash like ‘Survivor’. No one else in the cast elevates the creaky script for even a second. Brosnan is so deadpan that he’s barely present, and McDermott struggles to spit out exposition as if it’s actual speech.
Aside from Jovovich, a couple decent explosions and one or two competent (but hardly special) suspense/action sequences, ‘Survivor’ has absolutely nothing to recommend. That’s a damn shame because it would be nice for more human and grounded action movies to emerge as an alternative to all the CGI superhero tomfoolery dominating screens these days. But if the best contemporary action filmmakers can manage is crap like ‘Survivor’, it’s no wonder that the genre is slowly dying away.