‘Free Fire’ only occasionally hits its targets

Taking aim in Free Fire.
Photo: A24 / Courtesy

Two and a half stars

Free Fire Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Rated R. Opens Friday citywide.

The entire plot of Ben Wheatley’s stylish, occasionally clever and completely one-note action movie Free Fire amounts to little more than a bunch of idiots shooting at each other. Although it’s set somewhere in the 1970s (as indicated by the fashion, politics and technology) and involves an illegal gun deal gone wrong, the context quickly becomes irrelevant, as all the parties involved take up strategic positions within an empty, crumbling warehouse, pick up the available weapons and do their best to kill each other. Their best isn’t very good (very few of the fired shots actually hit their intended targets), which is why the movie manages to go on for 90 minutes, and the sketchy character moments that fill the space between volleys of gunfire are only slightly less repetitive.

Wheatley and his regular co-writer/co-editor Amy Jump have put together an impressive cast, including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley, but their collective talents are not really needed to pull off the bare-bones script. Copley, never a subtle actor, gets the most laughs as an inexperienced gun dealer with tons of unjustified confidence, and Larson keeps her cool as the lone woman in the room and the movie’s version of a horror-movie Final Girl. She and Hammer compete for the most screen time and the most character depth, but neither of them gets more than a handful of personality traits over the course of the movie.

Wheatley’s previous films, including The Kill List and last year’s High-Rise, have been mannered, cynical takes on genre formulas, and while Free Fire is a little more straightforward, it has the same arch tone, as if Wheatley is just a bit too cool for the kind of movie he’s making. The hip retro soundtrack, the quippy dialogue and the visual flair don’t do quite enough to dress up what is more or less an extended fight sequence. At half the length, Free Fire could have been a lively experiment, but its charms run out far too quickly.

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