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  Ava Killer Queen
Year: 2020
Director: Tate Taylor
Stars: Jessica Chastain, John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Jess Weixler, Ioan Gruffudd, Diana Silvers, Joan Chen, Colin Farrell, Efka Kvaraciejus, Christopher J. Domig, Michele Muller, Dieter Resle, Aramis Merlin, Michael Guarnera, Bruce-Robert Serafin
Genre: Drama, Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ava (Jessica Chastain) has a job to do, one which involves her chauffeuring a wealthy businessman (Ioan Gruffudd) from the airport to his destination. She knows she's an attractive woman, so expects the chat up lines from him as they travel along, but maybe what he does not expect is that she responds to them, and stops the car to get into the back seat with him. He is thinking this is shaping up to be a better day than he anticipated when suddenly she pulls a gun on him and starts asking him strange questions, like what does he really know about why someone wants him dead? He bluffs and blusters, but has no good answers, and she shoots the phone out of his hand...

This businessman has seconds to live, for Ava is a professional assassin… Not a bad way to start a thriller, you would have thought, and it's true those opening five minutes promised something interesting from a mini-genre of action flicks, the badass, glamorous female killer over forty movie. There had been a few ladies of a certain age trying to give their careers a shot in the arm over the past few years with a hitwoman role, among them Charlize Theron, Salma Hayek and of course the eternally industrious Milla Jovovich, all taking their cue from Gena Rowlands back in 1980 when she made Gloria with her husband John Cassavetes.

That said, this style had taken its own sweet time in taking off. Indeed there was a dearth of these characters from then until the mid-tens when studios smelled a potential for a series of hits. Hits of both varieties, that was, and just like those ageing male stars took their cue from Liam Neeson to revitalise things with a violent disposition, here female stars like Chastain did the same, only the results did not quite have the same effect on audiences. It was as if the stories the producers dreamt up or commissioned for these efforts were thin gruel when it came to concocting them, seemingly because the novelty value of seeing a fortysomething actress kicking bottom was judged to be enough for the paying public to accept in their entertainment.

Yet as a watery dollop of action blandness like this demonstrated, what these movies actually needed was a personality. It was not enough to rely on that novelty alone and cross fingers this would suffice as the lead and her stunt double beat up and shot a variety of heavies. Chastain only had herself to blame, for she was the producer here - it was made by her own company - though perhaps unforeseen there had been behind the scenes difficulties when screenwriter and original choice to direct Matthew Newton was forced out of the project thanks to some allegations of domestic violence against him. Tate Taylor, who had directed Chastain in misguided prestige drama The Help, was drafted in instead, but nothing in his anonymous technique suggested why he was anything but very available.

Rather than an inspired choice, that was, as while he was by this stage exhibiting some range, it was more of the "Jack of all trades, master of none" kind of approach. And the backstory given Ava seemed content to make her an alcoholic as if this was a personality trait rather than an illness. There was also some truly disposable business with Geena Davis as her waspish mother and Jess Weixler and Common as her sister and brother-in-law respectively, which edged out the action sequences. The thing was, this was a decent cast, and if your idea of a titanic battle was seeing John Malkovich and Colin Farrell smashing each other's heads in then you may enjoy it, but nothing indicated what attracted anyone to this other than a nice paycheque. When Joan Chen showed up as a cliché Dragon Lady who owned a gambling den (!), you knew this was lacking originality to a self-sabotaging degree. Music by Bear McCreary.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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