Explosions and wild chase scenes can't save a bad mustache and thin plot in 'The Gray Man'

·4 min read

“The Gray Man” takes a few tepid swings at being some kind of international thriller, but it’s really just two hours of Chris Evans in a bad mustache chasing Ryan Gosling around the world trying to kill him.

You could do worse.

Of course, you could also do better. The movie, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, best known for their Marvel movies (“Avengers: Endgame” among them), prove that chaotic, incoherent fight scenes aren't exclusive to superhero films. They’re just as hard to follow when mere mortals are involved.

Gosling plays a convicted killer chosen by Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) for a secret CIA operation, a more-or-less off-the-books assassin program. He’s known as Sierra Six, or mostly just Six — as he’s the sixth one in the program. (At one point someone says Six is a weird name. “Yeah, well,” he says, “007 was taken.”)

Gosling and Evans flex bad guy charisma

Years pass. Six kills bad guys. Fitzroy retires. A job goes sideways and Six winds up with some incriminating evidence and the new boss (Regé-Jean Page) wants it. Desperately. He wants Six dead, too. Neither thing will prove easy. As one character points out, Six is historically good at his job, and his job is killing people. He also has help from Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas), a CIA agent who reluctantly falls in with him.

Enter Lloyd Hanson (Evans), who washed out of the CIA in short order, mostly because he is psychotic, a gleeful killer who delights in torture (when we meet him he’s got jumper cables hooked up to an unfortunate fellow’s mouth).

The obnoxiously eccentric Lloyd sports a bizarre brush cut and the aforementioned mustache, which Six rightly describes as a trash-stash. He dresses like he’s on his way to league night at a 1950s bowling alley.

These are just a few of the broad-brush strokes with which the film paints him.

He’ll do anything to anyone anytime, as opposed to Six who, if he’s not doing a job, mostly plays defense. Really, really good defense, but still. Lloyd has no compunction about kidnapping Fitzroy’s niece (Julia Butters) as leverage, for instance.

All this makes the story sound more complicated than it is. In reality, all this exists mostly to show off the incredible charisma employed by Gosling and Evans.

They use it in different ways. Gosling’s Six is kind of a good bad guy, or maybe it’s the other way around. Whatever the case, he is far more morally conflicted than Evans’ Lloyd, who is just nuts.

Ryan Gosling is Mark Greaney's assassin hero Court Gentry in the new Netflix thriller "The Gray Man."
Ryan Gosling is Mark Greaney's assassin hero Court Gentry in the new Netflix thriller "The Gray Man."

This film is best described as over-the-top

If the action sequences are hard to follow, and they are, getting to them can be kind of fun. Evans has a ball playing a bad guy, about as far from Captain America as you can get.

Maybe too much fun. At times he seems like he’s enjoying the character more than the audience is.

Gosling is more of a silent-assassin type, though his banter with de Armas and Butters is kind of enjoyable.

Both Six and Lloyd are the sort of movie creatures who can withstand what would be lethal wounds in real life and just kind of walk them off. Although in fairness a reliance on realism is not what the Russos are going for here.

What they are seeking is an over-the-top sensibility — huge explosions, massive firepower, chase scenes that defy either gravity or common sense or maybe both. A falling-out-of-a-plane sequence with Six seems as if it’s going to be inventive, but it just sort of stops.

No matter. From the second we meet their characters, we know what everything is leading to: a showdown between Lloyd and Six. It takes way too long to get there — at two hours and change the film could easily have been whittled down to a more manageable length.

But Gosling and Evans are movie stars, no doubt about it. How far that charisma can take a film is a question “The Gray Man” asks and answers: pretty far, but not far enough.

'The Gray Man' 3 stars

Great ★★★★★ Good ★★★★

Fair ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★

Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo.

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas.

Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of strong violence, and strong language.

Note: In theaters July 15. Streaming on Netflix July 22.

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk. Subscribe to the weekly movies newsletter.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: 'The Gray Man' movie review: Big action and star power only go so far