In order to create the optimal viewing experience for rickety Netflix thriller Point Blank, a quickie remake of the acclaimed 2010 French film, expectations should either be lowered or, even better, eradicated completely. It’s an easy-to-follow strategy given that a) Netflix original films are patchy at best and b) here’s yet another one of them that’s received no form of marketing push. The Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston comedy Murder Mystery was a solidly enjoyable watch given that it was “mostly agreeable” compared to “utterly wretched” like Sandler’s other Netflix titles while Hilary Swank’s sci-fi thriller I Am Mother was a pleasant surprise given that no one really knew it existed until the day it dropped.
In a different era and with a bit more budget, Point Blank could have been a throwaway January release, probably starring Liam Neeson, but now the best place for it is undeniably Netflix, its undemanding nature and flat aesthetic making it an adequate background watch at best. Yet there’s also just enough here to make me wish it had been that bit better, a serviceable watch with a frustrating throughline teasing what could have been. The film’s most pronounced ace is star Anthony Mackie, taking over the everyman lead from Gilles Lellouche, playing ER nurse Paul, a man dealing with long, gory shifts at work and a heavily pregnant wife (the ever-underused Teyonah Parris, last underutilised in If Beale Street Could Talk) at home.
His life soon collides with Abe (Frank Grillo, playing a parody of himself), a hardened criminal in his care, suffering from a gunshot wound after what appears to be a botched getaway from a murder scene. Paul is suddenly dragged in deeper after his wife is kidnapped and Abe’s brother informs him that to get her back safely, he has to break a heavily guarded Abe out of hospital.
At a brisk 86 minutes, Point Blank doesn’t have time to waste and in the first act, the snappy pace does give the film a lightfooted slickness, throwing us into the action and securing our interest with a juicy set-up, one that’s already inspired three other remakes. It also means the clunkier elements don’t have much time to stick or, if they do, they provide some unintentional humour, from the threatening texts always sent, for some bizarre reason, in quotation marks (“I’m gonna stab you thru the heart w a fucking pencil” – BIG D) to the clunky first draft dialogue (“What happens if something happens to my baby?”). We’re never far out of familiar territory (the plot revolves around securing a USB stick) but for a while, the film hurtles us along with it anyway.
It’s only when the initial escape is out of the way that the engine starts to sputter. The simplicity of the conceit becomes muddied with some rather confusingly etched nonsense involving corrupt cops, an unconvincingly grizzled Marcia Gay Harden as the shotgun-toting detective in hot pursuit and a glaringly obvious plot twist. Director Joe Lynch can’t quite decide what tone to stick with and alternates between unfunny buddy comedy (“I bet your wife kidnapped herself” is one of Grillo’s worst quips) and balls-to-the-wall gonzo action movie. Lynch’s background in horror does mean he stages some shock moments of gore with finesse but the action is largely pedestrian and hampered by some ill-fitting 80s music choices.
The cast is fitted out with Netflix stablemates from Mackie (last seen in the “no homo” episode of Black Mirror as well as sci-fi drama IO and next set to fill Joel Kinnaman’s boots in Altered Carbon’s second season) to Grillo (who headed up 2017’s Wheelman) to Boris McGiver (Tom Hammerschmidt in House of Cards) and also comes with that all-too-familiar cheapness that afflicts many of their films. As mentioned, Mackie is firing on all cylinders, showing yet again he’s an actor worthy of much more than what he’s given and he is afforded some nice lines as a man uncomfortable with being forced into action mode (although Mackie’s buff post-Marvel physique does make him a rather less convincing everyman that Lellouche). He also has strong chemistry with Parris, another actor who is yet to receive enough screentime (outside of underrated – and now cancelled – comedy series Survivor’s Remorse) and the pair spark so nicely together than in a just world, they would be headlining a romcom on the side.
Rarely rising above its stoically maintained mediocrity, Point Blank exists simply to pad out Netflix’s ever-expanding library, before they lose so much of it to Disney+ and HBO Max. There are worse films to spend 86 minutes with on a Sunday afternoon but, more importantly, there are also so, so many better ones instead.