As blood-soaked revenge flicks go, Gunpowder Milkshake certainly looks a darn sight more dashing than most. Inhabiting an extremely stylised world of day-glo Americana, with 1950s style diners, bowling alleys and neon signs served up front and centre alongside the occasional splash of wood-paneled Victoriana, the look of director Navot Papushado’s lavish action film does well to distract from a script that’s at turns both hammy and flimsy.
Karen Gillan plays Sam, an assassin picking up the family business who needs a long, hard session in a therapist’s chair. After a botched killing, in true Leon: The Professional fashion she ends up having to look after a young girl as she goes about her less than conventional day job. It’s hard to tell if Gillan’s constant eye-rolling and deadpan approach is to do with her lack of meaty lines or simply because Papushado hasn’t bothered fleshing out her character, but despite some corny one-liners, she’s certainly got the chops to play an action lead – it’s just a shame that this one is so two-dimensional.
Papushado evidently thinks that the idea of a conventionally attractive female assassin who works with other conventionally attractive female assassins is enough to hang a two hour movie on, but even with a stellar supporting cast – Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh and Carla Gugino play a no-bullshit crew of fellow hitwomen – there’s definitely something missing from Gunpowder Milkshake, which takes itself far too seriously for a film with so many silly shoot-outs.
But there are still things to enjoy here. Proceedings perk up when Game Of Thrones‘ Lena Headey arrives halfway through as Sam’s long-lost mother Scarlet, though the fact that she’s only 14 years older than Gillan grates, highlighting Hollywood’s continued avoidance of casting women over the age of 50 for anything unless they’re Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep or Susan Sarandon.
Alongside her mother and an eight-year-old girl called Emily (played with wide-eyed confidence by Chloe Coleman), Sam now has to fight a shady collection of gangsters, henchmen and criminals, for reasons which are loosely explained but never really interrogated – lest it get in the way of another fabulous fight scene.
Again, the guys playing the baddies (it’s very a much a boys vs girls approach, here) are plucked from some of the best in the business, with Paul Giamatti, Michael Smiley and Ralph Ineson all doing their best John Wick-esque villain set pieces as a Western style soundtrack plays alongside slickly choreographed punch-ups, stabbings and gunfights. In fact, the music is one of the film’s strongest suits, with Karen Dalton’s ‘Something On Your Mind’ and Stereolab’s ‘French Disko’ as well as Mercury Rev’s ‘Goddess on a Highway’ and Janis Joplin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’ all lending a carefully-curated Tarantino-esque edge to a film that unfortunately prides style way over substance.
- Director: Navot Papushado
- Starring: Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Carla Gugino
- Release date: September 17 (in UK cinemas and on Sky Cinema and NOW)