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Movie review: Charlize Theron is great, but 'Atomic Blonde' fizzles

By RICK BENTLEY • Jul 26, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Director David Leitch’s “Atomic Blonde” strives to be a mysterious Reagan-age spy drama that has a 21st century feel because it has been infused with the aggressively excessive violence so pronounced in the world of graphic novels. The script by Kurt Johnstad is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City,” by Antony Johnston.

The spy thriller unfolds in late 1989 as the Berlin Wall is finally taken down. While the world is watching the historical moment, a network of spies from multiple countries are all waging a kill-or-be-killed confrontation where the violence never lacks for intensity.

Even with a remarkable performance by Oscar-winning Charlize Theron, none of these parts connect strongly enough to make this a project worthy of launching a franchise. It’s got enough fun moments to be entertaining but never delivers the mushroom cloud of excitement the name would suggest.

Theron does her best playing Lorraine Broughton, one of the top agents with MI6. She's sent to West Germany where she must work with Berlin station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), a man who's been undercover so long he's lost his own identity. They must find a way to deal with vast differences so they can recover a list that in the wrong hands could be deadly for the good guy spies.

The mission is challenging from the start as Broughton spends as much time fighting for her life as trying to complete the mission. It slowly becomes obvious that there are some deadly dealings being made to get control of the list. Most of the planning gives way to the attacks that are the source of the movie's continued use of violence filling the screen with buckets of blood.

Theron continues to the show the deep skill she has at handling action sequences as shown in previous work like “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Aeon Flux.” Theron is a killing machine in high heels. The work she does in an extended fight sequence that takes her through several floors of a building is better than the kind of action work done by her male counterparts in their own spy thrillers.

The added bonus is that Theron can shift from a killer look to a seductive stare with a blink. She shows off that charm in a series of well-choreographed encounters with another spy played by Sofia Boutella. They sizzle together.

Theron's good but she can't help the script that’s full of predictable twists and a story where the majority of the characters look to come from the “Make Your Own Spy” paper doll set. McAvoy's bad boy act falls flat and the other spies offer the same bureaucratic elements that have been used in other spy stories.

Leitch showed with his work on the Keanu Reeves action films “John Wick” and “John Wick 2” that he understands how to tell an action story where there's little to no plot. Those films worked because of a much better pacing. With “Atomic Blonde,"”Keitch gives in to the tendency to just let the camera linger on Theron. That would not be a bad thing if this were a music video but as an intense spy drama, those scenes just slow the process.

The real problem is the story. It has enough bits and pieces of action and drama to work as a graphic novel. But it's not enough to make this movie a roller coaster ride.

Even the way the film is shot screams of mediocrity. The city streets, buildings and locations are a study in gray in such a way that combined with Theron's platinum locks, the production often feels only one F-stop away from being a black-and-white movie. Considering this story harkens back to the cold war, a colorless approach would have given it at least a striking look.

Credit Theron with being so powerful on screen that she often distracts from the film’s flaws. That works for a lot of the movie but without support from better writing, a crisper direction or more interesting supporting players, "Atomic Bomb" never ends up being blast it should have been.



2 out of 4 stars

Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Sofia Boutella, EddieMarsan.

Director: David Leitch

Rated R (language, nudity, graphic violence).

Running time: 115 minute,

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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