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’21 Bridges’ review: there are far more than 21 reasons not to see this dreadful crime drama

'Black Panther' star ditches superheroes for corrupt cops, but perhaps he should have stayed in spandex

Those seeking the smallest crumb of originality in their storytelling shouldn’t bother with 21 Bridges. Brian Kirk’s new crime drama is as stale as can be, despite an all-star cast that boasts Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman.

Produced by the Russo Brothers (Avengers: Endgame), the New York-set thriller starts well enough. A teary young boy sits in church beside his grief-stricken mother as they mourn the death of a police officer – their father and husband respectively. Before them, a priest dispenses his views on how a cop could come to be slain in the line of duty. 19 years later, that boy is now a man, and Andre Davis (Boseman) has followed in his dad’s footsteps as an NYPD detective. Unfortunately, Davis Jr’s propensity to administer justice with his standard issue service weapon often gets him in trouble with his superiors.

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So far, so (relatively) good. However, this setup is soon ditched for something altogether more well-worn. Across Manhattan, two rogues rob a restaurant where cocaine is stashed. Their arrival coincides with that of the police and a shootout ensues, leaving a heap of dead officers on the floor. The two men escape and for one night only, the 21 bridges (clang! it’s the title!) that provide both access and escape to the city are closed off.

Unfortunately, it’s exhausting to watch this bluster play out. Popcorn fluff has its place, of course, but please lift the perfunctory air that clings to this work like cigarette smoke to a trusty, old woollen jumper. 21 Bridges reeks of compromise via focus group testing. In fact, the narrative might as well have been torn out of a film school textbook marked ‘template police procedural’.  More fun is to be had in laughing at the plot holes and convenient twists that attempt to salvage any potential cul-de-sacs. You can almost hear the gears clunk as the tiresome narrative gradually speeds up towards its tired finale.

Cast-wise, it’s similarly disappointing. J.K. Simmons is wasted as Captain McKenna — the angry officer who encourages Davis to capture the men responsible with the help of feisty and fearsome deputy, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller). All the Oscar-winner looks interested in here, is picking up an easy paycheck. As for Miller, it’s always a source of mystery as to why casting agents — especially in the land of plenty that is Hollywood — look to cast an overseas actor to play a native of another. Miller brandishes the sort of coarse New York tongue here that could sandpaper your wardrobe. She does tremendously well with it, but the question remains: why cast her over a local? Boseman fails to make much of a dent this time around too, sadly.

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Casting queries and performance quibbles aside, there is no denying that the shootouts here offer a visceral thrill, and they are assisted by some punchy sound editing. But it cannot save what is ultimately a forgettable film.  Kirk and his screenwriting crew have sacrificed fully fleshed-out characterisation in order to deliver a frenzied action-packed spectacle. They merely bookend 21 Bridges with exposition and if they thought that would suffice, it does not. It is like padding out coursework with pretty pictures and graphs to make up for a half-assed job. You’re not going to fool anyone. In the end, 21 Bridges is all style, little substance.

Details

  • Director: Brian Kirk
  • Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, J.K. Simmons
  • Release Date: 22 November 2019
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