PLOT In a remote warehouse, an illegal arms deal goes terribly wrong.
CAST Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley
RATED R (bloody violence and some gore)
BOTTOM LINE Jocular gun violence and “colorful” characters make for an amusing but glib action-comedy.
Shaggy facial hair, pointy shirt collars and leather pimp jackets are on parade in “Free Fire,” Ben Wheatley’s retro-hip crime flick. The movie is set in the late 1970s, a decade whose fashion failures have been providing punchlines for generations. Actually, though, “Free Fire” has a nostalgic yearning for another bygone era: the snarky, mocking, coolly detached 1990s.
If you didn’t live through that decade or have never seen a film by its defining director — Quentin Tarantino — then “Free Fire” may strike you as a fresh, cheeky action-comedy with an outrageous sense of humor. It’s the story of several gun runners who converge in a remote Boston warehouse and, after a slight misunderstanding, end up shooting each other at close range for 90 minutes. It’s the kind of movie in which every bullet wound becomes the occasion for a flippant joke or a snotty retort. “Free Fire” has its amusing moments, but overall this is one glib and shallow piece of entertainment.
The characters are drawn with maximum color and clarity, not to engage us emotionally but to help us tell them apart. There’s Chris (Cillian Murphy), an IRA operative who has a soft spot for his American liaison, Justine (Brie Larson). Vernon (Sharlto Copley), a South African arms dealer, also digs her, though his erratic temper seems like a guaranteed lady repellent. Far smoother is Ord (Armie Hammer), a criminal marketing rep of sorts with great hair and a dazzling smile. Their transaction goes more or less smoothly until one lowlife, Harry (Jack Reynor), recognizes his opposite number, Stevo (Sam Riley). These two have a beef, and before you know it, shots are fired and the entire company is scrambling for shelter.
That’s it — that’s the story. There’s no larger context or clever twist; nobody reveals a hidden side or a personal secret. The deepest thing about these characters is their lapels. Mostly, “Free Fire” seems fascinated with the idea of being shot, as if that were a “Jackass”-style thrill. The movie ends the only way it can: The bullets ricochet and so do the one-liners, until nearly everyone is riddled with holes and lying in a pool of irony.