Two score and six years ago, Charles Bronson introduced moviegoers to a new kind of anti-hero in “Death Wish,” the first in a series of ultraviolent thrillers featuring an ordinary man turned vigilante to avenge his wife’s murder.
Old ideas never die in Hollywood. Now comes “The Rhythm Section” (Paramount), which has absolutely nothing to do with an orchestra. Rather, the “Death Wish” premise is revised to feature an ordinary woman (Blake Lively) who becomes an unlikely assassin to hunt down the killers of her family.
Director Reed Morano (“The Handmaid’s Tale“), working from the novel by Mark Burnell (who also wrote the screenplay), serves up a gritty, pulse-pounding drama for discerning adults who can tolerate salty language and squeamish-worthy fight scenes. But while the heroine’s fight against evil is laudatory, viewers of faith cannot condone the film’s endorsement of revenge and the ensuing violence.
When her parents and siblings perish in an airplane crash, Stephanie (Lively) is plunged into a downward spiral of drug addiction and prostitution. At her nadir, she meets Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), an investigative journalist. He stuns her with the revelation that the disaster was not an accident but an act of terrorism, and that the bombmaker (Tawfeek Barhom) is still at large.
Enraged, Stephanie agrees to help Proctor. When he is murdered, she takes up the case, journeying to Scotland to consult with Proctor’s main source of information, a former MI-6 special agent named Iain (Jude Law). Iain agrees to train the waifish Stephanie and turn her into a first-rate killer, however preposterous that may seem (and is).
Iain also provides the film’s title, special-agent code for maintaining harmony and self-control in the face of danger. Always remember that “your heart is the drums, your breathing is the bass,” he insists, and she’ll be just fine.
And how. Stephanie’s dramatic transformation from shivering drug addict to stylish James Bond wannabe is as incredulous as it is amusing. She glides with relative ease from Madrid to Tangiers to Marseilles, sporting an assortment of fright wigs while knocking off baddies with guns, knives or a nifty syringe.
Along the way she meets another rogue agent, this time from the CIA. Marc (Sterling K. Brown) is a suave man of mystery and potential love interest — but may also be the reddest of herrings.
The film contains bloody violence, brief nudity, implied nonmarital sex, a prostitution theme, drug use and pervasive crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.