Does every A-list action idol eventually reach the point in their career where their starring vehicles start to look like career commentaries? Think of Arnold, reflecting on his own young days as a perfect physical specimen. In Bloodshot, a preposterous new superhero time-waster that’s like something Philip K. Dick might have dreamt up after a concussion, Vin Diesel screeches into his own noisy star text. He plays Ray Garrison, a solider murdered and then reborn as a Frankenstein monster of military hardware. In place of blood, his veins now course with “nanites,” a.k.a. microscopic machines that lend him superhuman strength, superfast healing speed, and a nifty magma-red glow behind his eyes and ribcage. He’s blunt instrument of modern warfare: a prototypical tough guy made tougher through technology. Which, really, is one way you could describe Diesel, himself. Bloodshot comes at the obvious time of superhero everything and Sony, the studio that bankrolled this gimcrack adaptation, seemingly angles for one of those profitable, fashionable shared universes, hoping that Bloodshot can anchor a whole interconnected franchise based on the Valiant Comics roster. Yeah, good luck with that (especially since this pandemic has taken all the box office). Marvel, after, all had the good sense (or luck) to launch its decade-long crossover event with a fountain of irreverent wit and deadpan charm. Bloodshot is no Iron Man. He has no personality to speak of. Which does, to be fair, make him a good fit for Diesel and his singular syllable machismo.
The movie itself is about as convincingly cerebral as, well, putting a lab coat and glasses on Vin Diesel; it’s soft-brained comic-book silliness draped in hard sci-fi spandex. Even as the film pulls back one layer of clichés, only to reveal another (a twist that was clearly given away in every single trailer). The real issue, though, isn’t that Bloodshot would fail an IQ test. It’s that its dumb fun isn’t executed with confidence, smart or otherwise. Director Dave Wilson, making his debut behind the camera after work in the video game field, largely botches the set pieces. At times, he bites on the surveillance parallel action in the vein of a Bourne film or a Tony Scott blockbuster but makes a hash of the crosscutting. Perhaps not surprisingly, the film only lurches to life when leaning into the elastic physics. The climax, involving fighters scaling and plummeting down the side of a glass tower, has a rubbery appeal.
But if Bloodshot honestly expects us to invest in the tragedy of Ray’s predicament — his transformation into a mind-wiped army of one — Diesel isn’t up to the task. There was a time when he seemed to possess loftier acting aspirations; Steven Spielberg and Sidney Lumet saw something in him. These days, though, the default setting is monolithic gruffness. Even in the fairly infrequent moments when he’s grunting out dialogue, Diesel bring to Bloodshot all the dimension and soul of a mute video-game avatar — though, again, maybe that’s what he part calls for. Ray, like the star playing him, is more bullet than man; with his aerodynamic done, he even looks like one. And in the film’s vision of forever wars and rebooted soldiers fighting them again and again, it locates a metaphor for a career: endless variations on the same scenario, only the details changing like a green screen with the click of a mouse. Bloodshot, in the end, is nothing more than a pile of wormed-over action tropes; a movie that’s seemingly going through the motions, while falling flat on its face with its attempted investment.
Big Time Adolescence
Up to now, SNL cast member Pete Davidson has been more famous for his romantic woes and mass pot smoking than anything he’s done in showbiz. But that should start to change with Big Time Adolescence, a heartfelt coming-of-age story about impressionable teenage boys and the imperfect male role models who influence them, that features a dynamic Davidson performance as one of those bad influences. Griffin Gluck stars as Mo Harris, an ordinary suburban sixteen-year-old who’s been pals since elementary school with his older sister’s hard-partying ex-boyfriend Zeke (Davidson). Mo has a tense relationship with his helicopter parents — especially his dad, played by beautifully understated Jon Cryer — and he has a crush on a cool girl named Sophie (Oona Laurence). Mo also has Zeke, the kind of best bud who gets him drunk, tells him dirty jokes and dares him to do stupid things, like sell drugs to the upperclassmen to boost his popularity.
For his debut feature, writer-director Jason Orley trends familiar coming-of-age ground, yet his sensitive touch to, for the most part, add a humanizing depth to his characters —except for Zeke’s girlfriend, Holly (Sydney Sweeney), who starts intriguing only to get wrapped up in the film’s weakest through-line. Better served is Gluck, whose endearingly thoughtful demeanor calls to mind a young Anthony Michael Hall or Joseph Gordan-Levitt. Throughout though Orely never loses sight of Zeke’s appeal, even as the film starts to chip away at the harmlessness of his affable exterior; with Davidson’s strange scum-bum charisma holding strong on screen. But the film does grow less steady as it attempts to create a narrative spine that never quite snaps into place. Although Orley is smart nto to push the melodrama too far, that leaves his already overly familiar story without much meat on its bones. Big Time Adolescence is funny not hilarious, poignant but not particularly deep. Still, it remains a sturdy dramedy that makes up for its lacking depth in scrappy charm, and a willingness to delve into the imperfections of its characters. Marking a strong starting point for all its collaborators on their own roads to creative maturation.
Big Time Adolescence is available to stream on Hulu