Gunpowder Milkshake (streaming on Netflix) is an action movie with a very thin plot and characters used for what they are, instead of who they are. It has a strong cast whose job is to stand in the right spot in the frame, in front of neon lighting, while wearing costumes that have been chosen to tell us more about these people than the dialogue does. When creating this, style was by far the most important thing on the filmmakers’ minds.
That description may make it sound like I disliked Gunpowder Milkshake, but I am merely stating facts. This is what it is. How it plays will depend on how you, the individual viewer, feel about style over substance amid straight-faced ridiculousness. It is similar to the John Wick movies in the way it creates a world of bloody violence with rules for its collection of professional killers. I found it to be pretty fun. The sets look great, the costumes are perfect for suggesting personality, the action scenes are choreographed in a way that fits the absurdity of this world and the actors do exactly what the material demands.
After an assignment gone wrong, a woman abandons her daughter. 15 years later, the daughter, Sam, has followed in her mother’s footsteps as a hired killer. When she disobeys orders so she can protect a little girl, Sam and 8 (and ¾) year-old Emily go on the run from Sam’s employers and a powerful crime boss whose son she killed.
Besides mother-daughter issues, there is not much for the actors to sink their teeth into at the screenplay level. Co-writers Ehud Lavski and director Navot Papushado trust audience familiarity with the genre and the cast’s ability to embody these types to carry the heavy lifting of story and motivation. Then, Papushado leans on the cinematography (by Michael Seresin), editing (by Nicolas De Toth), production design (by David Scheunemann) and costume design (by Louise Frogley). Look is clearly what Papushado was most concerned with and it helps immensely in the big gun battles. The visuals set things up and the action pays it off. Papushado makes sure we understand where we are (a deserted bowling alley, a doctor’s office for killers, a library for assassins in need or a diner where these people meet to conduct their business without fear of getting shot), orienting us in the space so we have a decent idea of what is happening once the chaos starts.
The dialogue says precisely what the audience needs to know about that specific character. There isn’t a lot of color in it. The color comes from the way that dialogue is delivered by a group of actors seemingly having a good time playing respectful murderers.
Sam is played by Karen Gillan. She has to tone down the charisma she has displayed in Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy and both Jumanjis, but has a good presence for the action. She is able to inject wit into a few lines. Lena Headey, as Sam’s estranged mother, is responsible for what emotion Gunpowder Milkshake contains. Headey makes Scarlet convincing in the moment, even if the character is mostly a plot convenience. Also a plot convenience is young Emily, played by now 12-year-old Chloe Coleman as though this is a drama about female relationships, as opposed to a silly, stylized, action movie. I mean that as a compliment. She gives the best performance. Between this and her likable work in the action/comedy My Spy, Coleman appears to have a real promising career ahead of her.
The supporting cast includes Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino as a trio of bad-asses and Paul Giamatti as Sam’s handler. Giamatti mainly gets to look sad during phone conversations. He is good at playing quiet resignation. Bassett, Yeoh and Gugino have to look cool firing weapons, which they do. Their scenes made me think that a prequel starring them as these characters could be fun.
Gunpowder Milkshake is goofy and derivative, yet everyone involved knew what they were doing and how to execute it. All it wants to be is stylized bloodshed, featuring a talented cast twirling around in slow-motion as bullets fly across the screen. That sounds entertaining to me, when it is done well and I’m in the right mood. Perhaps I was in the right mood today. Gunpowder Milkshake may not be a superior example of its genre, but it is an enjoyable entry.
3½ out of 5
Karen Gillan as Sam
Chloe Coleman as Emily
Lena Headey as Scarlet
Angela Bassett as Anna May
Michelle Yeoh as Florence
Carla Gugino as Madeleine
Paul Giamatti as Nathan
Directed by Navot Papushado
Written by Ehud Lavski and Navot Papushado