Friday, May 26, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

The Redbox deserves better.

Gather ‘round, kids, and let me tell you about movies. While you may know them today as live-action reimaginings of your dad’s favorite breakfast cereal mascots, movies used to be about charming, attractive, or otherwise sympathetic characters going on adventures. They used to be self-contained stories that anyone could watch without needing six Wikipedia tabs open to track backstory and character references from previous IP. I know; it’s weird. Let me give you an example: Suppose there’s a guy whose job keeps him away from his family for long stretches at a time. He’s gotta work, you know? But his wife is tired of waiting around for him and decides that she wants a divorce. Sucks, right? But it gets worse! His daughter is graduating high school, and he needs to get home in time for her party. However, this guy — let’s call him “Tom” (Gerard Butler) — just received a job offer that will pay enough to put said daughter through college. Does he take the job or go home to his family? Which is more important? This is what we used to call an “internal conflict.”
Movies can’t all be in a guy’s head, though — I mean, it’s a visual medium — so they also used to have an “external conflict.” Let’s say Tom is a CIA agent (Yes, I know Gerard Butler is Scottish. We’ll deal with that later) and he’s just finished a covert operation to destroy a secret Iranian nuclear weapons plant. Except, twist, the Iranians have tracked him down and are coming for revenge. He’s gotta get out of Dodge, right? To do so, he and his Afghan translator (Navid Negahban as Mo) have to outwit a myriad of security forces, revolutionary guards, and assassins over their four-hundred-mile trek to the Kandahar airport. Huzzah, adventure! From there, all we have to do is round out the cast with some allies (like Travis Fimmel as Tom’s CIA handler and Ray Haratian as a local warlord), a damsel in distress (Elnaaz Norouzi as a whistleblowing journalist captured by Iranian special forces), and a handsome Han Solo-type on a motorcycle (Ali Fazal as Kahil), and you’ve got a movie. Simplistic? Maybe. Reductive? Sure. Movie? Yes.

On paper, Kandahar sounds like a slam-dunk, the easiest $1.50 a Redbox denizen like myself could possibly spend for a Sunday afternoon’s entertainment. Gerard Butler — star of January’s excellent Plane — has now firmly cemented himself as one of our great B-movie action dads, and with director Ric Roman Waugh (who also helmed Butler vehicles Angel Has Fallen and Greenland) in tow, there’s no excuse for Kandahar to be anything but a lean and mean ninety-minute romp. Both actor and director come to play: Butler has become expert at pairing ruffled machismo with a kind of hang-dog sentimentality, while Waugh takes every opportunity to show off his Saudi Arabian shooting locations with a creative mix of sweeping crane shots and handheld close-ups. Kandahar was made with care by a team of professionals who clearly know how to deliver movies that feel like movies, movies that understand why tactile environments and compelling pathos breed better dramatic stakes than giant laser beams shooting down from space.
If only Kandahar’s story was worthy of the effort. Written by the awesomely-named Mitchell LaFortune, its sprawling political intrigue and solemn religious overtones are far better suited for deeper exploration in a doorstop airport paperback. Though well-staged, the action is slight and underwhelming — perhaps a case where life is less cinematic than cinema, as LaFortune is former US Army intelligence and apparently styled his screenplay after true events. If drama is life with all the dull bits cut out, Kandahar is life with all the dull bits doubled back in slow motion, a death sentence for an actioner already flirting with a two-hour runtime. It’s a fascinating issue, actually: Kandahar should either be 20% smarter or 20% dumber, but the balance on which it settles leaves it neutered and tedious. Still, Butler needs the work and the Redbox has slots to fill, so it may be best for us to settle on Kandahar as an Also-Ran, an in-between effort that will teach its creatives valuable lessons to be employed on their next, hopefully better, project.

hits theaters today, May 26th.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review - I haven't seen this yet but it's interesting to see these post-US Afghan withdrawal movies coming out - Kandahar + Guy Ritchie's The Covenant (the latter is really good btw). The 'war movie genre' seems to deliver at least one or two very good films a year - All Quiet on the Western Front, The Outpost, The Covenant, Da 5 Bloods, 13 Hours, The Outlaw King (a neo-sequel to Braveheart no less!), etc.