North Texas Daily

Light on substance but high on style, ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is an alright treat

Light on substance but high on style, ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is an alright treat

Light on substance but high on style, ‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ is an alright treat
July 28
14:30 2021

“F–k you!”

“Language, Anna May. There’s a child present.”

“Fine. Fudge you.”

Years after her mother (Lena Headey) left her, Sam (Karen Gillan) has become an elite hitwoman, following in her footsteps. Working for the Firm, a powerful crime organization, Sam kills the wrong target one night and fails to make amends when she saves Emily (Chloe Coleman), the daughter of one of her targets. Going on the run, she tries to find her mother and the librarians she worked for (Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino) to turn the tables on the men who betrayed her.

Nearly seven years later, “John Wick” still proves to be a major influence on modern American action movies: “Extraction,” “Atomic Blonde,” the recent “Nobody” and now Netflix’s “Gunpowder Milkshake.” Directed by Navot Papushado, whose previous works lean more into horror, this violent little trip looks to set up Netflix with another franchise starter, this time having a group of women unleashing bloodshed in a densely populated criminal underworld. With many aiming for the same level of quality as the Wick franchise, can “Gunpowder Milkshake” score high marks?

While it lacks in character, world-building and even consistent action, “Gunpowder Milkshake” mostly makes up for its shortcoming in style, music and a handful of pretty entertaining fight scenes in an enjoyable romp through its stylized world.

The action is obviously what will make or break this for most, so let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t. The choreography in the hand-to-hand sequence is solid, and director Papushado’s horror background comes in handy when focusing on the human destruction and tension setting up each descent into violence.

The editing is mostly solid — the bowling alley fight starts off with a well-done oner in which Sam fights off a trio of comedic goons, though the second half is somewhat choppy and cuts with nearly every impact. Another sequence about ten minutes later when Sam fights off the same, now-injured goons while her arms are paralyzed comes out as the highlight. It has this deliciously over-the-top, slapstick nature to it with Gillan keeping a serious face while pulling off some of the goofiest combat put into a movie in a long time.

Supporting cast Bassett, Yeoh and Gugino also get some pretty nice moments in the climax, though the editing occasionally breaks down and the climactic shootout is a bit rote in execution and setup. Still, the last ten minutes are gloriously indulgent and pay off pretty well.

Composer Haim Frank Ilfman’s score was probably the most solidly entertaining aspect of the movie — he does a lot of genre-mixing, blending in aspects of acoustic-heavy Spaghetti Westerns, Italian thrillers and film noir among others. He turns in a wonderfully eclectic score, with “Goonfight at Gutterball Corral,” “La Balada de los Charros” and “The Standoff” being highlights. Here’s to hoping Ilfman gets bigger work in the future.

When it comes to the visual style, Papushado and cinematographer Michael Seresin create a wonderfully mysterious portrait of their unnamed city. The Gutterball Corral bowling alley is bathed in deadly red, the parking garage is starkly lit, the lighting is kept moody and it is glorious when they indulge in neon lights and violent delights. Hats off to them because the filming location is cool as hell.

Yeah, “Gunpowder Milkshake” has quite a bit of tasty flavor to accent its dime-a-dozen premise. However, the flavor doesn’t suppress the lack of nutritious elements: an engaging story, characters and world-building.

The story is very predictable and trope-heavy, though that may not be a problem for some. Bassett, Yeoh and Gugino don’t play that big a role until the end when their sisterhood of assassin has a somewhat unexplored theme of family that’s not really developed beyond library metaphors. Still, they are good when they get the spotlight, it’s great to see Yeoh kick ass as always and even Coleman has some good chemistry with Gillan and the rest.

Another faulty aspect is the script’s regards to its feminist premise — there’s a weird thing they try to do with Ralph Ineson’s underused antagonist that was a bit confusing and perhaps needed some more time in the oven. The world is also very underdefined, especially its larger antagonists — the Firm are very cookie-cutter, powerful men in suits who don’t do much. Paul Giamatti is also just kind of there as Sam’s liaison with them.

Papushudo and his crew also indulge in slow-motion a bit too much in the third act and it doesn’t look great, but overall, “Gunpowder Milkshake” is a delicious slice of dessert, even if it’s a bit too sugary for its own good.

Final rating: 3.25/5

Courtesy Netflix

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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