Destroyer plays like an FX pilot for Nicole Kidman (wisely) scrapped and (foolishly) retooled into a two-hour movie. Uglied up to resemble Tig Notaro strung out on speed pills, Kidman puts forth a valiant effort to get you to care about her character. But she’s trapped in what turns out to be yet another third-tier, all-you-can-eat nihilism buffet — 2018’s model of boring, boilerplate bad-cop thriller you’ll forget by the time they put out a new platter later this year. The whole thing feels like the sort of clumpy powdered-creamer scum shown here floating atop cups of nasty police-station coffee.
Erin Bell (Kidman) is an LAPD officer with a facial map of busted capillaries and bad decisions, her schnoz flattened into her face from a presumably nasty injury. After waking from another bleary-eyed bender, Erin catches a new homicide to investigate — the victim bearing the same neck tattoo dots as she does.
In flashbacks, we learn Erin was inserted into an undercover sting to infiltrate the inner circle of Silas (Toby Kebbell), a murderous drug dealer. Her partner, Chris (Sebastian Stan), is suspiciously MIA in this present day. There is ominous talk of a bystander, of whom it’s said “the woman knew what she was doing.” Erin starts to gets high on Silas’s supply. Blah blah blah. These flashbacks mainly serve to remind you that yes, Kidman really is quite lovely-looking … and that so very many pretenders have ridden Point Break’s jock for so long and no one ever learns anything about why that’s a bad idea.
Anyway, it seems Silas has resurfaced to clean up his mess, start his business up again and eliminate anyone who might know about his next move. As Erin picks up Silas’s scent, we see how irreversibly she upended her life for that first futile investigation. She lost her marriage. Her teenage daughter wants nothing to do with her and can’t be sure her most vivid memories of Erin’s motherhood are even real. Because it stars an Oscar winner, Destroyer wants you to believe it’s about about a woman still desperate to find order and meaning in a society where all her sacrifices to uphold those have been for nought — a death spiral meant to make a difference. In that sense, this film is a poser; ooh, how hardcore to have Erin jerk off a source who has little time left to live — the camera whip-panning to her spit-lube action! “Have a nice month,” she says once he has finished.
Without much ingenuity, incentive or interest, Destroyer books Erin on a lazy, linear bullet train from one scumbag to the next all the way up to Silas, with only Bradley Whitford bringing any pizzazz as a piggish fixer. This is the second straight slog from director Karyn Kusama and screenwriter Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi; The Invitation played like sixth-rate Shyamalan, and that serious claim is not slung lightly. Destroyer has a similar stalking-horse quality alongside other, better crime films. If nothing else, these two outings illustrate Hay and Manfredi are just as bad at writing “serious” films as they are profitable piffles like Ride Along or Ride Along 2.
For in the end, amid all its other trite and tedious nonsense, Destroyer insists it’s smarter than you with a late reveal (much like The Invitation). To be fair, you won’t see it coming. That’s only because you think no one would attempt something so dumb anymore — let alone blow it out into an ending rivaling The Return of the King in bountiful length and beaming light.
Maybe FX brass knew people would tune out by the second ad break. Once Destroyer takes its rightful place as Tuesday-night basic-cable filler, you’ll be able to prove them right.