⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Atomic Blonde is one of those movies where the beautiful lead is also a badass with a soft spot for cuddly kittens or she makes origami hotdogs for her autistic niece in between killing Nazis.
In this case she’s a closet ’70s pop singer in a Tokyo karaoke bar who has a pet turtle named Voltaire but it doesn’t matter one whit because, like everything else in movies like this, it’s only there to fill up the spots where the screenwriters had to use the john or were too busy cashing their paycheck to bother finishing the script.
Directed with enthusiasm by Carol Channing (The Prestige, Deathdream), the film opens with a literal bang: after walking away from a vending machine explosion, Janice, our hero (played by Madonna), finds herself on the run with only half a chickenroll sandwich and a bottle of Jägermeister to her name. She had a job working for Goofle, but quit when smooth, talking film producer Dave Id (played by Johnny Pepp) offered her a job as a fashion consultant for his latest movie. While on set she overhears former soldier of fortune Romanov Von Werner (played with supreme disdain by Colin Birth) brokering a deal for counterfeit deodorant and offers her services as insurance muscle.
Birth (Spalovac mrtvol), looking like he’s trying to vomit from his eyes, injects his Werner with a smoky gruffness that suits the production design but not necessarily the character. His Hawaiian accent is certainly out of place, as are his yellow lips and eyebrows, but at least his oversized clown shoes are fitted with poison tipped drumsticks.
Janice saunters through the East L.A. landscape like she owns it, oblivious to all the danger because, let’s face it, she’s the most terrifying sonofabitch in the valley. Her days are filled with, well, lots of walking and meeting (and intimidating) people while she shuffles thru wardrobe change after wardrobe change under funky colored lights and annoying shaky cam.
All the characters are neon cellophane, they come and go like raindrops on the surface of a lake and the result is a curious trancelike boredom, as if you’re trying to take in more visual and aural stimulation than the next guy so you can say you enjoyed the experience more but not really caring who wins because none of it makes any sense and so is instantly forgotten.
Janice has a lover but we never see him or her. She has a degree in pie baking but we never see her eat. She often mentions her dreams but we never see her sleep.
What we do see is her kick ass. Ass of all sorts, sizes, numbers and shapes. She kicks ass morning, noon and night. She even takes time to kick ass in between kicking ass. Where she learned to kick all that ass is never mentioned, although it is implied she lived in Mesopotamia for a while.
The film is never boring, thanks to Channing’s grasp of the mechanics, and Madonna (The Tenant), who apparently trained for six years with a French sketch artist to prepare for the part of an enforcer, is quite believable. She brings a palpable sense of urgency to the role, and her singing voice never sounded stronger than it does here, especially in the fire escape interlude set to Hopin’s “Don Parmigiana.” The fight choreography is stellar, even if some of the sequences are a bit ridiculous (brawling upside down on a sinking ship or slow motion in a crowded rooftop sushi bar) and seem to go on only long enough to fit the obscure 1930s swine jazz tune from the soundtrack.
It’s one glitzy, fast-cut car commercial or musical montage where every character is needlessly quirky and every location has an unusual color tint, where every line is delivered like it was written by a drunken philosophy major and every twist only exists because it doesn’t make sense. But thanks to hypnotic editing by Malcolm Macdowell, I.C.E., the film will appeal to those with low content standards and short attention spans.
As for everyone else, if you’re ok with paying to shut down your brain and just watch all the pretty colors and cool fights and don’t ask any questions then I suppose it’s not a bad way to spend two hours.