OUTSIDE THE WIRE ½
2021, R, 114 mins
Anthony Mackie as Leo / Damson Idris as Lieutenant Thomas Harp / Pilou Asbæk as Victor Koval / Kristina Tonteri-Young as Corporal Mandy Bale / Bobby Lockwood as Reggie / Enzo Cilenti as Sergeant MillerDirected by Mikael Håfström / Written by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe
The new Netflix
produced futuristic sci-fi military themed thriller OUTSIDE THE WIRE
definitely has some compelling themes about the nature of mechanized
warfare and the relationship between man and machine A.I., but it simply
seems more disappointingly interested in delivering bombastic action and
spectacle. That, and its
whole approach makes it come off like some low rent Neill Blomkamp wannabe,
minus the thoughtful follow-through.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE has some high concept ideas at its core and most
assuredly does have some thanklessly decent visual effects and production
design, but the resulting film feels like its frankly riffing on the
better parts of countless other past genre films, leaving the whole affair
seeming too conventionally conceived and executed for its own good.
The setup here in
director Mikael Hofstrom's (ESCAPE PLAN)
film is quite good, though. We're
very quickly introduced to the not-to-distant future of 2036 Eastern
Europe, which - via some nifty montages and title cards - is home to
a bloody series of ravaging civil wars (it's a bit vague, however, on
particulars, but what you basically need to know is that it's between
pro-Russian insurgents and Ukrainian resistance fighters).
During one daring U.S. led operation involving a series of human
and "Gump" soldiers (or heavily armed robots) the entire squad
is suddenly ambushed, leading to rebellious drone pilot Harp (Damson Idris)
having to make some life and death decisions in a split second.
Vehemently defying orders from his higher ups, Harp launches a
drone attack, and the Hellfire missiles get the job done, but manage to
kill a few of the marines on the ground (granted, nearly 40 others have
been saved). Despite Harp's
call being good and sensible on paper, he nevertheless disobeyed a direct
order, which places him in an immediate hot seat position.
He's deemed by military brass to be a hot headed liability on the
battlefront that needs some straightening out.
Harp is pulled out of his relatively safe and secure drone bunker in
America and is ordered to appear at a heavily fortified and contested hot
zone in Eastern Europe and report to duty to his new boss, Leo (Anthony
Mackie), who doesn't initially seem too keen on having Harp tag alone as a
sidekick requiring some trial by fire discipline.
Oh, and Leo harbors a secret that seems very quickly revealed
(maybe a bit too quickly) in the story: He looks like a regular, ordinary
grunt, but is secretly a five-year-old cyborg that's so lifelike both
physically and mentally that he can pass for a real human (hell, he can
even curse out insults like a human drill sergeant).
He's not impervious to pain, mind you, and his programming has
allowed him to evolve to the point of feeling genuine empathetic emotions,
but he's still a take-no-prisoners solider that just happens to be several
times more lethal, dexterous, and strong than the best ones out there.
The pair are tasked with a mission to deliver some much needed
vaccines (how timely!) to numerous villages in the middle of the urban
battlefields, but they also become embroiled in stopping the nefarious
plan of a terrorist named Victor Koval (Pilou Asbaek) from gaining access
to some Cold War era nuclear silos and launching the payloads at all of
his sworn enemies.
On a positive,
some of the character dynamics between Harp and Leo are modestly
intriguing, especially in turns of their character introductions and later
interplay. Harp himself is
not a vile man, per se, and has his heart in the right place when in the
line of duty (his drone actions killed Americans, yes, but he saved three
times more...and would have risked killing all of them if he didn't act
when he did). Still, he
brazenly disregards the chain of command, which causes great friction
between him and his new super solider cyborg superior in Leo, who despite
not being of normal flesh and blood can certainly get under Harp's skin
like any other mind game playing army man.
Most compellingly, Leo - because he's capable of free thought - is
also able to buck status quos and, in turn, refuses orders on his accord,
something that Harp can obviously relate to.
Both seem like a well paired team in terms of their mutual
abilities to act on the fly and make really tough calls, but Leo is
absolutely calling the shots, many of which Harp predictably doesn't agree
The future world
of OUTSIDE THE WIRE is also nifty in parts, especially in the avenue of
the "Gumps" themselves (an obvious in-joke nod to the
cinematically famous FORREST GUMP), who are meant to be the next high end
evolution in modern warfare, but seem infinitely chunkier and bumbling
than Leo's nearly human artificial being (that, and the Gumps really stick
out like a sore thumb on the battlefield and usually are walking targets
that rarely seek cover or shelter). Hafstrom
does have some fun when it comes to fully unleashing Leo in all of his
cybernetic glory, and their are some decent action set pieces that shows
him hurtling himself through enemy combatants that would make Steve
"Captain America" Rogers scientifically juiced up hero blush
with envy. In terms of
delivering on required oumph factor, OUTSIDE THE WIRE is competent
and slickly made, not to mention that it possesses a certain visual
effects sheen that helps sell its imagery of tomorrow.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE doesn't look like some disposable direct-to-video
cheapie, which is to its credit.
But where OUTSIDE
THE WIRE supremely lets down audiences is in its would-be enthralling
examination of its premise and themes.
The screenplay by
Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe suggests a far
more layered and interesting film than what we're given here, and
considering the sheer enormity of the debate about military intervention
in foreign countries, the pratfalls and dangers of artificial
intelligence, and the disquieting psychological nature of drone war, this
film simply poses so many tantalizing questions that it doesn't have the
wherewithal to answer. It's a
prime example of solid ideas being given the half baked treatment, which
is not assisted by the messy, episodic nature of the screenplay (more
often than not, the whole film is a series of vignettes strung together
more so that a fully formed story). And
for as thanklessly decent both Mackie and Idris are here, their respective
characters eventually just become props being utilized to propel the
narrative to a final, plot twisty climax that features everyone racing
towards thwarting nuclear Armageddon.
There are so many possible avenues the film could have explored
about that nature of the chain of command in the military and Leo's highly
unique position in it that it becomes fairly large letdown when the makers
don't delve into them in any provocative way.