Gunpowder Milkshake premieres Wednesday, July 14 on Netflix.
With an abundance of style and a deficit of substance, Gunpowder Milkshake features an impressive lineup of stars — ones who you really want to watch kick a ton of ass — but wastes them with a regrettably empty project that lands with a muddled thud.
A “comic book movie” that’s not based on a comic book, Gunpowder Milkshake presents us with a hyper-stylized bubble world of shadowy money men, female assassins, an endless supply of disposable thugs, and a lone library that’s meant to supply and train members of the “Sisterhood.” Greats Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino play the stewards of the library while the MCU’s Karen Gillan plays a lone killer being targeted by – yup – the very organization she works for. Gillan’s Sam is the daughter of Lena Headey’s Scarlet, a hitwoman who was forced to run out on her little girl 15 years earlier. Now Sam must reunite with Scarlet, and join forces with the Sisterhood, in order to take down The Firm. It sounds more fun than it is.
Despite the neon colored-sets and an attempt at a noir-ish, pulpy production design, Gunpowder Milkshake is dragged down by D.O.A. dialogue, rote action sequences, and just an overall lifelessness. As mentioned, it’s assembled an awesome-on-paper, award-winning cast, including Paul Giamatti, and then gives them clinically dry lines to say and tedious roles to portray, as if their mere presence was supposed to be good enough. And, sure, the “hitman running from their own boss” story isn’t new, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done in a fun or fresh way. Gunpowder Milkshake dresses up this time-honored tale with hot pinks and retro diners and a cutesy malt shop aesthetic but that’s all it is: a sugar-coated sheen. The rest is a tonal mess that at its best is quirky “cool” and at its worst is bland and boring.
In an attempt to display its own unique landscape — like a Sin City or a Kill Bill, or even other decent Tarantino/Rodriguez copycats — Gunpowder Milkshake creates an interesting snow globe but then can’t quite manifest the rest. It wants to employ Tarantino’s use of a contrapuntal soundtrack but it doesn’t work. It wants its star, Gillan’s Sam, to be a cosplay-ready heroine with her bowling jacket and a gun tightly taped to her hand (her arms get paralyzed at one point) but it feels forced. And there’s really no attempt made to have any of the characters be funny or interesting.
To give the story a touch of heart, Chloe Coleman enters as Emily, a young girl who Sam must protect while also fending off her own company’s crazed, screaming goons. Gillan’s Sam is an effectively hard nut to crack so it makes sense that she be given a young ward. But then everyone else in the story is also a gruff, steely badass so it makes Sam feel less special by comparison. Only Carla Gugino’s Mathilde gets to sneak in some personality, embodying the polite and kind front-facing bespectacled librarian of the Sisterhood. While everyone else is just being tough, she’s allowed to present a small amount of warmth and, in a way, humor.
Another failing element here is the fact that Sam is being marked for death because she killed the wrong person on a mission given to her by her bosses. No, not an innocent bystander or some type of collateral damage, Sam’s target was the son of a mob boss and her employers simply made a mistake. It’s even repeated over and over that she was just doing her job like normal, but leaning into this strange plot marker doesn’t help it make sense. Sam being betrayed like this undercuts just about everything. It makes it seem very matter of fact as if she could have just been dumped by The Firm at any point over the past 15 years for absolutely no reason. In turn, all the action that follows resonates as hollow because it feels like the movie barely searched for a reason for mass bloodshed and Gun Fu theatrics.
Gunpowder Milkshake finds a window of life in the middle, during a hospital fight between Sam and three thugs (dubbed the “Boneheads”), where her arms are rendered useless and she has to tape a gun to one hand and a scalpel to the other, and use young Emily as an assist. It’s a touch overly choreographed but it’s also the closest the film gets to feeling eccentric on its own terms. Most of the movie’s big action is saved for the end when all the women can join together, but this bit of lunacy was the better showing. This second act run with Emily also made it seem like there was a different style of story forming. Sadly, there wasn’t and Emily is quietly shuffled back into the deck for the third act.
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