Calm down, cineastes. Don’t get too testy about what Netflix has gone and done now. Point Blank — now available on the streaming service — is a remake, yes, just not of John Boorman and Lee Marvin’s masterpiece about nihilism at the nexus of violence and crime (which was already reheated to tepidity in both cuts of Payback).
Instead, this Point Blank reconfigures a 2010 French film of the same name into English. It’s already been remixed into Korean, Tamil and Bangla versions. Indeed, much like fellow French-language thrillers Sleepless Night or District 13, this one has a prefab premise easily translated: A nurse named Paul (Anthony Mackie) becomes embroiled in a conspiracy after his very pregnant wife is taken hostage. To save her life, he must spring a wanted murderer named Abe (Frank Grillo) from his hospital and deliver him to a safe house.
Even though the French original was merely a passable thriller fleet of foot in its retreat from your brain, it’s an idea on which to imprint any number of cultural contexts. Here, Paul is a black man, and Mackie gets to flirt, however faintly, with facing the fear of racial repercussions from his eventual acts of violence, no matter how necessary they may have been.
But this rendition of Point Blank is mostly a swiftly hoisted up-top high-five to the more impish inclinations and esoteric influence of producer Joe Carnahan; the director of The Grey and The A-Team shares that credit here with Grillo, who brings none of the intangibility he infused into his 2017 Netflix double-pump action quickie Wheelman. Neither do Grillo’s clashes with Mackie generate appreciable energy. Most of the moments between them are more apt to inspire fan-fiction about Crossbones and Falcon chumming it up rather than any rooting interest in Abe or Paul. Then again, Point Blank is the sort of movie that takes 45 minutes to reveal character secrets that you’ll be able to discern in 4.5 seconds.
It’s intriguing to set and shoot the movie in Cincinnati, but Point Blank betrays its bonafides by referring to Over-the-Rhine as “the OTR” and also never takes aesthetic advantage of its Americanized locale in the vein of remakes like Sleepless or Brick Mansions. You can feel its flippant tone most forcefully in an ’80s-heavy soundtrack that was set to shuffle and forgotten about — spinning up Black Flag, Atlantic Starr, Eazy E, Grandmaster Flash, Whitesnake and, in truly baffling narrative incongruity toward the end, ABC’s bouncy “The Look of Love.”
Perhaps this is Carnahan and company’s way of asking you not to take any of this too seriously. But then why all the philosophical waxing about instilling hope for a man’s life where none previously existed or how a thin line between chaos and disorder is so quickly obliterated? Point Blank never reconciles its chug-ready thirst for palpable tension with the voluminous pisses it then must take.
The only enjoyable accessory here is the character of Big D., played to an enjoyably boisterous hilt by Markice Moore. One of many crooks with whom Abe has gotten in too deep, Big D. sends threatening text messages that read “I’m gonna stab you thru the heart w/ a fucking pencil” or “I WILL GOUGE YOUR EYEBALLS OUT AND SKULL FUCK YOU” … complete with the quotation marks.
It’s also William Friedkin week on Turner Classic Movies, and the penalty for interrupting Big D.’s appreciative viewing of the filmmaker’s To Live and Die in L.A. … is to watch Sorcerer with his running commentary that it’s always been superior to Star Wars. See, what Big D. really wants to do is direct, an itch he scratches with the olive branch Abe extends in exchange for assistance with a big-fight finish.
Big D. represents the film’s only fun wrinkle, but it’s frittered away without so much as a credit cookie. Again: No reason for cinephiles to get riled about a movie that can’t even do anything cool with the cinephile contained therein.