‘The Rhythm Section’ Abandons All Clarity in the Name of Single-Minded Revenge

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Raza Jaffrey, Max Casella

Director: Reed Morano

Running Time: 109 Minutes

Rating: R for Guns Mainly, Plus a Few Needles, and By-the-Book Sex Appeal

Release Date: January 31, 2020

In The Rhythm Section, Blake Lively goes by the name Stephanie Patrick, but while she is on her revenge mission, she assumes the identity of a woman named Petra, an assassin who recently disappeared and presumably died. Also, heading back to early in the film, she’s making ends meet as a prostitute who goes by whatever name her clients want her to have. That lack of identity is telling. We know what motivates her (avenging the death of her family in a plane crash), but we never really learn who she is on a more fundamental level. That elemental minimalism can work in an action flick, but I get the sense that The Rhythm Section wants us to understand the context surrounding Stephanie’s mission, but explanation thereof never fully arrives.

That identity crisis extends into just about every facet. For example, the title is a supremely non-obvious one for a movie that doesn’t have anything to do with music. Its meaning is provided when an even bigger question mark of a person, as played by Jude Law, tells Stephanie in the course of training her to become a killer that she must keep her internal rhythm section steady. Her heart is the drums, and her breathing is the bass. This fairly fascinating idea is never referenced again at any other point. I suppose that Stephanie certainly breathes hard and her heart pounds when she gets into some deadly situations, but that is not emphasized in a way that it is calling out to be.

So much of The Rhythm Section is an enigma. Stephanie looks like a pretty well-off young adult before her family dies, so why she must turn to prostitution is anyone’s guess. (Maybe, maybe, it’s her path into the underworld of assassin-ry.) And her entire physicality is plainly bizarre. During the main training montage, she seems completely incapable of running like a normal human being, with her arms flailing and torso bent at a nearly ninety degree angle. It’s certainly a bold acting choice on Lively’s part. Maybe it’s a physical manifestation of the agony of trauma. Anyway, this all leads into a cat-and-mouse game between Lively and Sterling K. Brown, which should be dynamite, but it’s built upon the barest bones of a structure.

The Rhythm Section is Recommended If You Like: Vaguely high-profile cinematic oddities

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Reluctant Kills

Movie Review: ‘Late Night’ Brings Some Diverse Casting, But Not Diverse Storytelling Ideas, to the Workplace Comedy Genre

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CREDIT: Emily Aragones/Amazon Studios

Starring: Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow Denis O’Hare, Reid Scott, Hugh Dancy, Max Casella, Amy Ryan, Paul Walter Hauser, John Early, Ike Barinholtz

Director: Nisha Ganatra

Running Time: 102 Minutes

Rating: R for Comedy Writers Talking as They Do

Release Date: June 7, 2019 (Limited)/Expands Nationwide June 14, 2019

Late Night stars Mindy Kaling (who also penned the script) as Molly Patel, the new hire at a talk show’s previously all-male, all-white writers’ room. But the real kicker isn’t so much the push for a diversity hire as much as it is Molly’s professional background, or lack thereof. She previously worked as an efficiency expert at a chemical plant and made it into her new gig through the most contrived of circumstances. I could complain about how unlikely Molly’s journey is, but I actually don’t care about the unlikelihood. The most improbable version of this story possible is perfectly fine so long as it is also some combination of funny, unique, and insightful. Alas, it is not really any of those things.

CREDIT: Emily Aragones/Amazon Studios

The setup isn’t the problem. In addition to the Molly angle, there’s also the matter of this show being hosted by a woman, the legendary (i.e., relic) Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson). Late Night tries to say something meaningful about how even a woman can reinforce the good ol’ boy status quo. But Katherine’s mistreatment of her staff transcends gender and race. And ultimately the social commentary amounts to little more than a red herring. This is mainly the story of the odd couple friendship that develops between Katherine and Molly, which is nice enough, but it struggles to be resonant within a rather scattered, shallow approach.

Late Night is Recommended If You Like: Watching old middle-of-the-road late night talk show clips

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Monologue Jokes