When it was announced that Kate Hudson would take on the starring role in Joe Lynch’s “Everly,” the casting was seen as a big career change: The role would transform Hudson from girl-next-door, rom-com queen to genuine action star; the good girl gone bad. Then she left the project.
Enter Salma Hayek, whose embodiment of “Everly” inspired Lynch to completely change the character from the waifish, heroine-addict from the original, blacklisted script to the cheetah that Hayek portrays. Throughout her career, Hayek has played the types of characters who are perpetually surrounded by guns, yet rarely wield one themselves — the possible exception being “Banditas,” Luc Besson’s 2006 period heist flick wherein she and BFF Penelope Cruz teamed up to rob banks. But even in her past Rodriguez films, like “Desperado” or “From Dusk Till Dawn,” Hayek was more likely to nurse a wound, or put on a show, than pick up a weapon. But in “Everly,” Hayek finally gets to take action, and the film is that much better for allowing its heroine to do so in a fun, believable way.
“Everly” begins jarringly: a naked Hayek stumbles into her bathroom to clean herself up after something unseen but likely terrible has occurred. An intricate, Japanese tattoo cascades down her back and fear lingers in her eyes. Everly, it seems, is a captive prostitute who has been acting as an informant for the police in order to take down her captor’s crime ring. But now, she’s been found out and her “boss” Taiko (Hiroyuki Watanabe) sends assassins to execute her. Everly, however, has shifted into survival mode, and takes out the first wave in a surprising character shift. From there on, the action of the film remains in her posh apartment where wave after wave of assassins, henchmen and competitors attempt to take her out of the picture. As the assailants get more and more ridiculous, Everly gets ever stronger, taking on each opponent with enough chutzpah that the film has been compared to “Die Hard,” and not only for its Christmas-time setting.
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That’s not to say that Everly knows exactly what she’s doing. The police gave her a gun and she’s a lucky shot, but when she tries to handle one of the henchmen’s semi-automatics she’s blown backwards in a humorous reversal. She hobbles around the apartment in six inch cheetah print heels before deciding to put on more practical sneakers to deal with the flow of attacks. When she shoots another prostitute, she drops the gun in disgust. She’s able to combat the assassins almost accidentally, out of sheer will to live. It’s almost as if Carolina decided to pick up a gun and help El Mariachi out; she might figure it out eventually, but not before making a few mistakes. It’s a refreshing alternative from other female-centric, revenge-focused action films like “Kill Bill” or “Hanna,” where the heroine is highly trained and lucky enough to possess a Liam Neeson-level set of particular skills. Everly has no such skill, except that maybe she’s watched a lot of the men in action in Hayek’s other films.
That’s not the only spot where the film takes a new angle, however. It also manages to tweak the premise of the single-room action drama. Whereas in the torture-porn “Saw” series or the psychological thriller “Cube,” the trapped characters have atrocities thrust upon them, Everly is the one on whom the action hinges. She’s trapped yet mobile, limited yet innovative — and rather than try to escape, she makes the action come to her. But even though the conflict is confined, Lynch doesn’t let each encounter get repetitive. Through the use of different set ups — such as a shootout seen only through the crack of a door, or a fight inside an elevator seen from way down the hall — Lynch is able to add suspense to fight scenes that might otherwise seem flat.
But “Everly” does suffer from its treatment of sexual violence. For most of the film, the action retains a campy quality with its cartoonish henchmen and a main villain in the form of a dapper gent who strikes too many poses with his sword. The parade of prostitutes who attempt to kill her at Taiko’s demand (a saucy Brit in animal print, a pink-haired punk, a school girl in pig tails) all come across as larger than life caricatures. Even an unfortunate incident involving a German Shepherd arrives at a hilarious punchline. But about two-thirds of the way through, the absurdity gives way to a disturbing quality. First, we learn more about what happened before Everly stumbled into that bathroom at the start of the film. Then a character called “The Sadist” appears to enact some type of torture-fueled Kabuki Theater. These scenes actually seem to celebrate the sadism in play for the sake of pure shock value. But despite this minor set back, “Everly” remains an entertaining romp, one where Hayek finally gets to wield a weapon and earn a spot alongside The Bride.
“Everly” opens in New York on Friday and is currently available on VOD/iTunes.