Director James McTeigue kicked off his career on a reasonably successful note with the flawed but interesting Alan Moore adaptation V for Vendetta, but ever since then it's been a downhill ride: he's responsible for the bland action film Ninja Assassin and the ridiculous horror/thriller The Raven, and he played a significant role in the creation of the messy horror remake The Invasion. However, McTeigue's new thriller Survivor represents a new low; the sort of tedious VOD thriller that up-for-anything stars like Bruce Willis or Nic Cage make these days when they're in need of a few quick bucks.
The film spotlights a few stressful days in the life of Kate Abbott (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element), who works for the American Embassy in London. A man named Dr. Emil Balan (the late Roger Rees, making his final big-screen appearance) is attempting to enter the United States on a business trip, but Kate has a few concerns about his visa application. However, it seems that Dr. Balan is a powerful figure, and soon Kate is facing a great deal of unexpected pressure from a variety of government officials. Meanwhile, a handful of more sinister figures are working on a more direct solution, and hire a professional assassin known only as “The Watchmaker” (Pierce Brosnan, Goldeneye) to dispose of Kate.
There are more complications and wrinkles that pop up as the story unfolds, but that's basically all there is to the plot: a killer is chasing a woman, and the woman is trying to stay alive and figure out why. Eventually, Kate is framed for murder (through a series of incredibly contrived circumstances, I might add), meaning that she has to run from both The Watchmaker and the authorities. She runs through stairwells, dark alleys, subway stations, busy streets, construction sites, government buildings, airports and other generic locations, and McTeigue's direction is so lifeless that there's never a bit of excitement. There's no passion in the filmmaking; just boring old competence.
The cast is loaded with talent, but no one is put to good use. Jovovich is a perfectly capable action star, but the film makes almost no attempt to give her any depth. We're supposed to root for her because she's an innocent person, but we're never given much reason to care about her as a character. Meanwhile, Brosnan's performance is limited to a series of shots in which he sports the same disgruntled facial expression. Occasionally, he'll also run a little bit or shoot at Kate. He's a fine actor in the right role, but this isn't even a part. It's merely an excuse to put Brosnan's marketable face on the poster. The character's only distinguishing feature is that he makes watches in his downtime, but he doesn't even get a corny, “You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of watch they wear,” monologue.
It's always a bummer to see old pros like Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) and Angela Bassett (Strange Days) wasted in throwaway supporting parts, but I'm not even sure why Survivor bothered hiring actors of that caliber for the boring authority figures Forster and Bassett are asked to play here. Dylan McDermott (American Horror Story) is also onhand, playing Jovovich's doting boss and generally tasked with looking very concerned about everything.
The only thing that makes Survivor even remotely memorable is the film's tacky stab at real-world relevance: in one sequence, the film flashes back to the events of September 11th, 2001 and offers footage of a plane crashing into one of the Twin Towers. In the film's opening sequence, we watch an American soldier being burned to death in Afghanistan. This stuff has almost no relevance to the bland C-thriller plot the film offers, but rather is used as a tasteless reminder that awful things happen in the real world. Indeed they do. Look for this one to be included in a “ten movies for five dollars!” DVD set in the near future.
Rating: ★ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Year: 2015