“Momentum” is a confused, bland, and wholly unoriginal action/thriller that tries its best to ripoff the mid-budget international action formula of Luc Besson’s Europacorp productions. Releasing almost a double digit amount of modestly-budgeted-for-wide-release action movies every year, the Europacorp machine operates in two gears: 1) Take a respected actor in between middle and senior age and turn him into a stoic and effortlessly charismatic action star. This approach worked wonders with the twilight of Liam Neeson’s career. Sean Penn and Kevin Costner, not so much. 2) Take a talented, attractive, recently popularized female star who’s been relegated to supporting roles in giant-budget Hollywood films and give her a leading role as a badass action hero. Scarlet Johansson in “Lucy” and Zoe Saldana in “Colombiana” comes to mind.
“Momentum” tries to duplicate the second approach by dropping the gorgeous and otherwise talented Olga Kurylenko into a wholly predictable and unremarkable cat-and-mouse heist/chase/revenge flick in order to hopefully steal a slice off the Europacorp pie. Considering that, quality-wise, the actual Europacorp output is full of cynically-constructed misses, with a couple of occasional hits that tend to at least be engaging and entertaining, if still not very original, I leave it to your imagination to visualize how grating and plain a product that’s an inferior clone to an already underwhelming brand might look like. Did that build an especially low standard of quality in your head? Good, now lower it by at least half and you’ll get an idea of how much of a waste of time and energy “Momentum” really is.
The film opens with, I shit you not, Morgan Freeman narrating about the importance of standing up against a tyrannical regime, with a bunch of badass robbers in ninja-vampires-from-“Blade II” cosplay, stealing a handful of valuable diamonds from a Cape Town bank. After a fight about killing hostages turns sour, one of the robbers ends up having to kill a psychotic accomplice while exposing her face in the process. And wouldn’t you know it, a slow-motion shot reveals that she’s a woman!! The woman is Alex (Kurylenko), our totally non-generic, athletic, cunning, no-nonsense action heroine.
As Alex prepares to leave South Africa with the diamonds, she gets a rude awakening in the form of Mr. Washington (James Purefoy), and his goons made up of GQ model rejects, looking for a mysterious and very important flash drive that was hidden with the diamonds. After Washington kills Alex’s partner, he sets his sights on Alex, who now possesses the drive, and a long and intense-in-name-only cat-and-mouse chase begins. Mr. Washington is one of those snarky and nonchalant bad guys who never loses his cool and loves cracking bad jokes while killing and torturing people. This is a shameless archetype, to be sure, but for it to remotely work, the character has to be considered an actual threat by the protagonist, and more importantly, the audience. From the moment of his introduction, Washington gets his ass kicked over and over again while Alex has the upper hand in every situation, leading to a suspense-free conflict between two characters who are supposed to be mortal rivals on equal footing.
Another major problem is in the way this character is written and performed. The screenplay by Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan is the kind that thinks it’s actually clever to have the bad guy say “He’s checked out” after killing one of his victims in a hotel. Purefoy makes sure to take the depthless writing and run it to the ground with a one-note performance that thinks a permanent shit-eating grin is enough to communicate real menace. There’s a point in “Momentum” where Washington has Alex’s leg in a vice, threatening to make her leg single-dimensional if she doesn’t tell him where the drive is, prompting Alex to come back with the film’s only clever line, “Single-dimensional, like the way you talk?” Here’s an idea guys; if you’re already self-aware of how badly your antagonist is written, perhaps giving him 50% of the film’s dialogue is not such a bright idea?
As a character, Alex is serviceable as an ass-kicking and self-assured modern action heroine. However, Kurylenko looks visibly disinterested and bored in the role. I guess that’s what happens when one moves from working for Terrence Malick to acting in a cash grab actioner for a camera-operator-turned-first-time-director. Morgan Freeman’s very brief role as an evil politician, the puppet master to Mr. Washington, has all the stink of a low-rent production coughing up the cash to use a prestige actor for a day and awkwardly splicing in whatever nonsense they shot solely so they can use that actor’s name and face in promotional materials. Freeman doesn’t share any scenes with Kurylenko or Purefoy, and I doubt he’s even aware of the film’s plot beyond what he was paid to say during the couple of hours the production could utilize his talents, of which he understandably gives the barest of bare minimums.
If “Momentum” was a simple chase flick about criminals going after a bag of diamonds, it would have been equally unremarkable and forgettable, but at least it wouldn’t have been as annoying. By trying to insert a political thriller angle, that conveniently reaches Bourne-level conspiracy proportions during the last three minutes while hilariously attempting to set up a sequel, the filmmakers’ completely unfounded self-worth and confidence in their project makes the whole thing look pathetic and misguided. [D-]