Four thieves in high-tech, colour-coded bodysuits with voice modulators pull off a diamond heist in Capetown, South Africa. While making a getaway, an unstable member of the crew threatens to go homicidal. He is put down by ring leader Alex Farraday (Olga Kurylenko), thus exposing her identity. In the aftermath, with her face all over the news, Alex tries to lay low at a posh hotel only to witness the brutal murder of fellow thief Kevin (Colin Moss) and his girlfriend by trained government assassins led by the despicable Mr. Washington (James Purefoy). Turns out Kevin was also running a blackmail scam threatening a powerful US Senator (Morgan Freeman). Hiding under the bed, Alex discovers a USB drive with video evidence. Pursued relentlessly by the amoral agents, she must use all her skills and ingenuity to survive, expose the bad guys and stop them murdering Kevin's family.
Since portraying one of the more complex and capable Bond girls in Quantum of Solace (2008) the talented Olga Kurylenko has been sorely underused. More often relegated to second-fiddle roles or eye-candy, in Momentum Kurylenko enjoys a rare lead role and proves a commanding, charismatic action heroine. While Alex Farraday is undeniably a heist film archetype: the ice-cool professional criminal aiming to get out after one last job, it is refreshing to see a woman essay this kind of role. Kurylenko makes for a believable badass, smart and resourceful, sexy but tough. To a large degree Momentum imitates the sleek comic book thrillers Luc Besson has cranked out as writer-producer over the last few years. Yet while Besson's influence is apparent in the strong female lead this is a better vehicle for Kurylenko than those he concocted for stars like Zoë Saldana and Salma Hayek.
Co-writers Adam Marcus, director of among others Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), and Debra Sullivan, who last worked together on the lamentable Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), concoct an appreciably quirky and unpredictable plot that is also at times playfully self-aware. When Alex tries to pull a familiar getaway trick on Mr. Washington, the villain remarks he has "seen it in far too many movies" before she outwits him again. Sullivan's input likely added depth to the heroine including a guilty secret and strained relationship with her partner's wife (Lee-Anne Summers) whom she nonetheless endeavours to protect along with her child. The film is well-paced, suspenseful and visually arresting. Whiplash editing expertly builds and sustains tension while also glossing over the odd absurdity and lapse into cartoonish sadism. The torture scene where villains clamp Alex's leg in a vice is gruelling and unpleasant. First-time director Stephen S. Campanelli, a famed steadicam operator and long-time collaborator with Clint Eastwood (Morgan Freeman volunteered his services for this film on the basis of their prior working relationship when Campenelli helped shoot Million Dollar Baby (2004)) handles the breakneck action sequences better than many budget-bloated blockbusters.
Like the Besson thrillers it emulates, Momentum is not especially deep. But it remains consistently entertaining. James Purefoy oozes evil as a truly odious assassin and the script is often quite witty especially throughout the climax despite a regrettable, obvious ploy for a sequel. Plus it is cool to see slinky, sultry Olga Kurylenko handle the kind of hard-edged action normally reserved for crusty leading men like Liam Neeson or Jason Statham. Someone get this woman a franchise.