“The Gunman” fires as a moderate caliber movie

Sean Penn in "The Gunman"

Courtesy Open Road Films

Sean Penn jumps into Liam Neeson’s wheelhouse with the spy thriller “The Gunman,” opening today. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not an incredibly memorable one either.

Penn works as the older action hero. He’s got the physique of a man half his age. The weary-eyed, “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe” nature works perfectly with the fact Penn has, well, seen things you people wouldn’t believe in real life.

Things like Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath first hand and Madonna first thing in the morning.

Penn’s liberal-leaning attitudes suit the plot, based on the 1981 novel “The Prone Gunman.” His character Jim Terrier is a former special ops man for “The Company” (read CIA) who assassinates a mining official in the Republic of Congo. He thought the job would make the world a better place.

It didn’t. But a lot of people made a lot of money exploiting the area after it plunged into civil war.

Terrier goes on to work as a humanitarian aid in the region — until some Really Bad Guys try to kill him. Now he has to work through a conspiracy to find out why they’re after him and what it may have to do with his past assignment.

Adding human drama to the hi-jinks is Penn’s relationship with Annie (Jasmine Trinca), the lover left behind when Terrier had to leave the country after the Congo hit. He told his best friend and co-killer Felix (Javier Bardem) to watch over her for him. Felix did his job so well he ended up in a loveless marriage with her. As expected, the conspiracy pulls in both Felix and Annie.

Idris Elba is also in the film, but if you leave to get a concession stand refill, you might miss him. His dialogue is pretty funny though.

I was rooting for Penn and company, but the film isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Penn is a believable action hero with an interesting flaw, but director Pierre Morel of “Taken” fame  (which started this “older action hero” genre) doesn’t put Penn in any memorable set pieces save a flaming shower scene. There’s nothing like the church sequence in the far superior “Kingsman: Secret Service” or the club scene in the also superior older action hero movie “John Wick.”

So if you want to protest “Insurgent” and “Cinderella” by seeing a new movie this weekend, “The Gunman” won’t piss you off but it isn’t something you’ll leave excited.

I’d go so “Run All Night,” myself.

But that’s just me thinking out loud.

Incidentally, here’s the trailer for “The Gunman.”


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