To borrow a phrase from Jane Austen (whose reaction to “The Rhythm Section” I would very much enjoy reading), it is a truth universally acknowledged that big-studio movies released on the last weekend of January are generally … not very good. (See, for illustrative purposes, last year’s “Serenity,” the Matthew McConaughey movie that gave us the irresistible phrase “that tuna that’s in your head.”) And “not very good” is a very charitable description of Reed Morano’s oddly paced revenge thriller, in which Blake Lively wears misbegotten bangs and an expression of mournfully indifferent ire, like she might just eat you if only she could be bothered. By the movie’s end, I was probably wearing a similar expression.
Lively plays Stephanie Patrick, a young British woman whose life has spiraled downward since her family was killed in a plane crash three years earlier: She’s now addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute. (It’s admirable that the movie in no way glamorizes prostitution — quite the opposite — but it makes for a pretty grim popcorn thriller.) When a journalist (Raza Jeffrey) tracks her down and informs her that the crash was not an accident, Stephanie becomes obsessed with wreaking vengeance on those responsible. With the help of a former M16 agent (Jude Law), who puts her through a very strange sort of boot camp (how is swimming in her underwear through an icy Scottish lake going to help?), she becomes a surly international assassin, and the movie follows her to various picturesque locations toward that end.
You watch wondering what good actors like Lively, Law, Jeffrey and Sterling K. Brown (as a former C.I.A. officer) saw in this muddy screenplay, and why Morano, best known for the Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” couldn’t find a way to make them spark. “The Rhythm Section,” despite its snappy-sounding title, plods along morosely, punctuated by the occasional car chase or explosion, to its inevitable conclusion; it seemed almost February by the time the film ended. Here’s hoping a new month brings better movies.
★½ “The Rhythm Section,” with Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Raza Jeffrey. Directed by Reed Morano, from a screenplay by Mark Burnell, based on the novel by Burnell. 109 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexual content, language throughout, and some drug use. Opens Jan. 31 at multiple theaters.