Director: Navot Papushado
Cast: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Chloe Coleman, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti
Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins
Rating: M18 (Violence And Gore)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 22 July 2021
Synopsis: Sam (KAREN GILLAN) was only 12 years old when her mother Scarlet (LENA HEADEY), an elite assassin, was forced to abandon her. Sam was raised by The Firm, the ruthless crime syndicate her mother worked for. Now, 15 years later, Sam has followed in her mother’s footsteps and grown into a fierce hit-woman. She uses her “talents” to clean up The Firm’s most dangerous messes. She’s as efficient as she is loyal. But when a high-risk job goes wrong, Sam must choose between serving The Firm and protecting the life of an innocent 8-year-old girl - Emily (CHLOE COLEMAN). With a target on her back, Sam has only one chance to survive: Reunite with her mother and her lethal associates, The Librarians (MICHELLE YEOH, ANGELA BASSETT and CARLA GUGINO). These three generations of women must now learn to trust each other, stand up to The Firm and their army of henchmen, and raise hell against those who could take everything from them.
If you’re looking for originality, you’d probably be disappointed by the lack of it in ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’. In more ways than one, director/ co-writer Navot Papushado’s over-the-top, candy-coloured shoot-em-up owes its plotting, style and structure to ‘John Wick’, with perhaps the most glaring difference being that it is a female-centric ripoff.
The uber-assassin here is Sam (Karen Gillan), a second-generation contract killer who followed in the footsteps of her absent mother Scarlet (Lena Headey). As the lazy voiceover explains, Sam works for a group of men called the Firm, who call upon her whenever they need someone to clean up their mess. Sound Continental-familiar?
Then how about the fact that the Firm, represented by the officious executive Nathan (Paul Giamatti), decides to disown Sam after the latter accidentally kills the son of powerful crime boss Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson), leaving her to fend for herself against the countless thugs sent after her for vengeance?
Or how Sam finds allies in a trio of fellow female assassins named Anna (Angela Bassett), Florence (Michelle Yeoh) and Madeleine (Carla Gugino), who belong to the group known as the Sisterhood and work under the cover of a grand library which books are just hiding places for various kinds of weapons, including guns, knives and even bars of gold?
As the story goes, Sam develops a conscience when she runs into the 8-year-old daughter Emily (Chloe Colman) of the man she is sent to kill, and with the help of Anna, Florence and Madeleine, vows to protect Emily from the Firm as well as Jim’s cold henchmen. Over the course of a single evening, Sam will also be reunited with her mother, whom she realises has been watching over her over the past 15 years following the latter’s abrupt disappearance.
It should come as no surprise that the story is just window-dressing for a series of deeply stylized set-pieces, which Papushado designs in the form of slo-mo shootouts and neo-noir visuals. One of the first sees Sam take on three male assassins in a neon-lit bowling alley, going after these fellow employees of the Firm with a bowling ball and capping the fight by grabbing the shiny bowling jacket from behind the counter which she will wear for the rest of the movie, establishing the kitschy but unapologetically brutal tone that the rest of the sequences will reinforce.
At least in the action sequences, there is some semblance of inspiration. A subsequent sequence along the brightly lit corridors of an underground hospital with the same three men sees Sam paralysed in both arms and making do by taping weapons to her hands. The film’s piece de resistance turns the aforementioned library into a battleground, with the Sisterhood using hammers, chains, knives, gas grenades and even a tomahawk to dole out punishment on their attackers. Still, Papushado’s indiscriminate use of slo-mo shootouts gets increasingly tiresome, especially the final panorama in a diner that brings Sam face to face with Jim.
Pity too that the focus is on Gillan, and less on the stellar supporting ensemble – especially Bassett and Yeoh – that we would dearly love to see more of. While we loved the charismatically affectless turns by Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron in ‘Wick’ and ‘Atomic Blonde’ respectively, Gillan’s performance here is curiously vacant, even if the role does give her plenty of opportunity to showcase her butt-kicking skills. In particular, the supposedly poignant reunion between Sam and her mother falls flat, given how Gillan chooses to keep up her character’s rough exterior at the expense of conveying any deeper emotions.
You can probably guess that, like ‘Wick’, the ending is a franchise-baiting one that leaves the door open for sequels. Yet even as ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ may still be entertaining to watch as a frivolous diversion, we suspect there is barely enough to justify any attempt at further world-building, not least if what follows is yet another ‘Wick’ ripoff. Papushado’s filmmaking favours all sorts of cool – from the soundtrack to the showy flourishes such as slow motion dollies and split diopter shots – but we’d wish that he had put in more thought to make the material a lot more compelling than just a nutrition-free sugar-rush.
(An over-the-top, candy-coloured shoot-em-up that owes its plotting, style and structure to 'John Wick', this female-centric ripoff boasts a stellar supporting ensemble that it sadly underutilises)
Review by Gabriel Chong