Karen Gillan leads an all-star cast of veteran actresses in a highly stylized, but surprisingly boring actioner. Gunpowder Milkshake is a neon lit jumble of bloody beatdowns and choreographed gunplay. A near invincible assassin protects a young girl with the help of her mentors. Bad guys have nifty names like Dracula and work for a criminal organization called “The Firm”. The film feels like an exercise of throwing cotton candy at the screen. It’s somewhat interesting to see, but feels like fluff and hot air in the end.
Gunpowder Milkshake opens with Sam (Karen Gillan), an extremely lethal hitwoman, wiping out an entire crew on an assignment. Unfortunately for her, one of the corpses was someone important. At “The Diner”, where guns aren’t allowed, Nathan (Paul Giamatti), Head of Human Resources for “The Firm”, wants her to lay low. But he has another important job that will allow her to get back in good graces. Sam accepts, and then has a change of heart when a kidnapped eight-year-old girl (Chloe Coleman) becomes involved.
The film flashes back to Sam as a teenager (Freya Allan). She learned the murder business from her mother, Scarlett (Lena Headey), who was mysteriously forced to abandon her. On the run with an orphaned child, Sam returns to “The Library”, a sisterhood of contract killers that her mom belonged to. Anna May (Angela Bassett) initially isn’t inclined to help, but the kind Mathilde (Carla Gugino) and fierce Florence (Michelle Yeoh) won’t turn their back on a member’s daughter. “The Firm” soon realizes that it has unleashed formidable adversaries.
Gunpowder Milkshake has vivid lighting contrasts throughout the narrative. Sets are bathed in hot pink, vibrant greens, and stark black. Sam, at first, dresses in a long trench coat and fedora like a film noir gangster. The production design is drawn from a fifties motif of diners, drive-in signage, and bowling alleys. The film’s distinctive cinematography can be appreciated, but rings hollow; bells and whistles for a rote screenplay.
Gunpowder Milkshake lacks character development. Director/co-writer Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves, Rabies) does nothing with an elite cast. Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, and Michelle Yeoh are wasted here. Meager dialogue doles out snippets of their past. We never find out where “The Librarians” came from, how they formed, and if they’re romantically involved, which is hinted at repeatedly. The only substantive relationship in the film is between Sam and the girl. The film would have been better served by focusing completely on them. “The Library” aspect becomes superfluous.
Dozens of baddies die gruesomely at the hands of our manicured protagonists. Karen Gillan, a capable actress, looks like she’s going through the motions by the final act. Her character is never in real jeopardy. That’s obvious by her facial expressions. The action scenes lose luster as the bodies pile up. It’s a symphony of violence that never grabs you. Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t live up to its talent. The film needed much more character exposition to accompany the carnage. Gunpowder Milkshake is a production of StudioCanal, The Picture Company, and Studio Babelsberg. It will premiere July 14th on Netflix with a theatrical release outside the United States.
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