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Review: 'Gunpowder Milkshake' (2021) Dir. Navot Papushado

Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Michelle Yeoh, Carla Gugino, Angela Bassett, Paul Giamatti, Ralph Ineson, Ivan Kaye, Adam Nagaitis and Chloe Coleman


Splashed in colour, blood and neon lights comes the first American feature length offering from Navot Papushado that has an all-female cast coming together to kick ass in style...

Assassin Sam (Gillan) works for a mysterious group known as The Firm, overseen by Nathan (Giamatti). Sam operates all the while knowing her estranged mother Scarlet was once the leader of the assassins.

When Sam is tasked with a hit, she finds that her heart strings are tugged when her actions leave a young girl, Emily (Coleman) orphaned. Sam takes Emily under her wing to ensure her protection.

With the help of Scarlet and members of the assassin school Madeleine (Guigno), Florence (Yeoh) and Anna (Bassett), Sam must dive into her dangerous career head on and stop the ones out to kill Emily and discover the truth about the hit she was assigned to silence...

Karen Gillan gets her chance to lead an action film instead of supporting in one. She's got the fiery spark and crazed glint in her Scottish eyes that convey not just a sense of unstable calm, but also quiet torment and pain she hides behind. Working for a team known as 'The Firm' as a clean-up for Paul Giamatti's shady businesses, Gillan's assassin Sam is thrust into a world that deals with all the usual action movie tropes - betrayal, backstabbing and knowing who to trust. Key to this tropes is Paul Giamatti, HR lead for 'The Firm' who has the dirty but regretful job of arranging a clean up of the cleaner upper.

It's thanks to eight year old - sorry, eight and three quarters - Emily played brilliantly by Chloe Coleman who allows Gillan to evolve from the cold and calculated killer into the shadow of a mother who once abandoned her. She learns to care and keep the young one safe, something she learnt from Lena Headey's former assassin and mother Scarlet. These three "generations" of ladies all play wonderfully with each other and help add to an always entertaining dysfunctional family scenario that is rather sweet in it's portrayal.

But don't expect this to be an all-out female led 'Expendables' style of unit that posters and trailers tease. It's Gillan's film all the way. The likes of Headey only has time to shine in the final act, but she does so with great gusto and attitude. Sadly, less time is given to Gugino, Yeoh and Bassett (and their stunt doubles) who only flex their trigger fingers a little for the climax. It's fun to watch, but again there's is something a little empty about these big names not really doing much when the potential for more is right there.

Gillan and Headey prove they are capable (Gillan more so) of dishing out the hurt by any means necessary on their own with style, flair and subtle sass however as a strong duo.

Gillan may not be the most natural leading lady, but with her MCU and Jumanji experience, she knows how to convey that confidence in a character who is a no-nonsense badass.

Gunpowder Milkshake is ripped from the current cinematic action handbook of stylish killers and hitmen (and women), mysterious corporate suits pulling the strings and illuminated cities that could be from a graphic novel. John Wick has clearly played big part in the template for modern action films, and Israeli director Navot Papushado has borrowed a lot here in terms of Western character style and action sequences.

You can't help feel it's almost a love-letter to the styles balletic, brutal violence that Quentin Tarantino would approve of. An example of this is our leading lady Karen Gillan dressed in a quirky orange and white bowling jersey, taking out three goons in a neon-lit bowling alley to a score called 'Goonfight at Gutterball Corral' by composer Frank Ilfman. With Ilfman's eclectic score, Papushado isn't afraid to use violence in stylish ways, be it bad guys leaping from cars whilst on fire, slow motion shoot-outs that splatter the walls and floors with crimson blood or fighting without the use of arms but with a gun taped to your hand.

Each time we have such action, it's done in a very tongue-in-cheek way. It doesn't stop the choreography and stunts from delivering however, with an example being a mid-point car park chase which has bad guys shooting from open windows, tyres screeching and bullets flying in a close-knit, well shot sequence. All of it with young Emily driving sat on Sam's lap who controls the pedals.

The action is fun and exciting when it comes up, but it soon resorts to basic thrills and spills that don't really go anywhere and don't present anything new the genre. It's a solid bit of noise and entertaining popcorn fluff that is more style over substance, but does nothing different except let the ladies step-up as leads against the men.

Does it pave ways for a sequel? This sort of disposable action films always leave a bit of milkshake at the bottom of the glass for next time.

Take a generous scoop of JOHN WICK, layer in helpings of ATOMIC BLONDE, sprinkler with a whisper of TARANTINO, blend dumb bloody action and top with a solid cast for this full-fat if not satisfying fudging milkshake.

'Gunpowder Milkshake' is a co-production between StudioCanal, The Picture Company, Canal+ and Ciné+

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