Director: Pierre Morel
Cast: John Cena, Alison Brie, Juan Pablo Raba, Marton Csokas, Alice Eve, Christian Slater
Runtime: 1 hr 49 mins
Rating: NC16 (Some Coarse Language and Violence)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 26 October 2023
Synopsis: An ex special forces operator takes a job to provide security for a journalist as she interviews a dictator, but, a military coup breaks out in the middle of the interview, they are forced to escape into the jungle where they must survive.
Sitting through this abysmal excuse of an action comedy, we wonder if ‘Freelance’ was outsourced to freelancers, notwithstanding the billing of director Pierre Morel and writer Jacob Lentz. It is otherwise not clear to us how Morel, who had built a reputation as an action cinema journeyman with ‘District 13’, ‘Taken’ and ‘Peppermint’, and Lentz, who spent seven years as a writer on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’, could be responsible for such an unfunny, unexciting and downright unwitty misfire.
On paper, the idea of a former United States special forces veteran who has to reluctantly put his former skills back into action must have sounded quite attractive, especially with John Cena in the role. Alas, beyond that logline, it seems that neither Morel or Lentz quite knew what to do with the character; that probably explains why Cena struggles throughout the movie to try to define ex-operative Mason Pettits as a husband who’s still in love with his estranged wife (Alice Eve) or as a reluctant bodyground or as a former soldier relishing the unexpected opportunity to exercise his particular set of skills.
Nor for that matter is Allison Brie any better off as a disgraced celebrity gossip journalist Claire Wellington hoping to regain her credibility by securing an interview with the dictator of the fictional South American country of Paledonia, Juan Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba). No thanks to Lentz’s lack of character definition, Brie – who is best known for headlining Netflix’s ‘Glow’ – struggles with whether Claire is simply an opportunist or a journalist with her own ethical scruples or a minx looking out for the chance to seduce Mason (and choosing to do so with a striptease one evening while hiding out in a village in the jungles).
It is somewhat ironic that the most interesting character is neither Mason or Claire but Venegas, whom the movie paints as a ruthless autocrat at the start and who is eventually revealed to be a savvy leader motivated to protect the interests of his people against greedy corporate types looking to exploit the natural resources Paledonia is blessed with. Without giving too much away, let’s just say it is intriguing how Venegas has carefully calibrated the image he projects to the public as well as to the outside world, including setting up opposition to his autocratic rule just to make the whole charade more credible.
Unfortunately, ‘Freelance’ is not quite sharp enough as political commentary to disguise its other all-too obvious shortcomings, not least as an odd-couple screwball adventure. The chemistry between Cena and Brie is awkward at best (and we don’t mean this in a good way), made worse by the fact that both are clearly struggling with their respective characters in the movie. Thankfully, Raba is often around to enliven the atmosphere with a playful shrug, a broad smile and occasionally a rousing (and often self-absorbed) speech.
Just as disappointing is how Morel handles the handful of action sequences in between the dull exchanges – from the initial bazooka ambush, to a jungle pursuit against helicopters and mercenaries on foot, to a raid on a village, and lastly to a showdown at the presidential palace, Morel treats each with little inspiration, barely expending any thought or effort to craft a memorable set-piece. It is an utter waste of Cena’s natural-born action star talent too, and given both Cena and Morel’s track record, even more frustrating.
So despite a somewhat unexpected political turn of events, ‘Freelance’ is through a through a letdown. It is evidently clear the filmmakers knew not what sort of movie they wanted to accomplish, so much so that it turns out a hideous mix of different genres. We’re not sure what Cena or Brie were sold on to sign onto this vehicle, but we’re quite sure both stars would probably wish that it were quickly lost in the dungeon of some streaming service. It doesn’t matter if you’re free or freelancing; there is surely a better use of your time than this lifeless mess.
(Probably one of the worst movies you'll come across this year, 'Freelance' is an utter misfire and absolute embarrassment for everyone involved)
Review by Gabriel Chong