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D: Joe Lynch / 92m

Cast: Salma Hayek, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Laura Cepeda, Togo Igawa, Akie Kotabe, Gabriella Wright, Caroline Chikezie, Jennifer Blanc, Jelena Gavrilovic, Aisha Ayamah

Everly (Hayek) has been held captive for four years in an apartment building by notorious gangster Taiko (Watanabe). She hasn’t seen her five year old daughter, Maisey (Ayamah), or mother Edith (Cepeda), in all that time. Having made the decision to help the police by informing on Taiko, her plan to get out from his clutches begins to backfire when he finds out what’s she’s done. He leaves her to several of his gang, who abuse her, but she has a gun hidden in her apartment and she uses it to kill them. With her police contact having been disposed of by Taiko, he calls to tell her that she won’t be getting out of the apartment alive. He puts a bounty on her head, and soon, the prostitutes working on the same floor are all trying to kill her.

Everly deals with all of them except for Anna (Wright), with whom she strikes a bargain: let her have two hours to make sure her mother and daughter are out of the city, and she’ll let Anna kill her and collect the bounty. Unable to get a sizeable amount of money to them, she thinks of a way in which they can come to her. Before that can happen she has to fight off various would-be assassins, and deal with one of Taiko’s gang she calls Dead Man (Kotabe), who is bleeding to death on her couch. He helps her to avoid being killed and when Edith and Maisey arrive he watches over Maisey while Everly explains the situation to her mother. But the arrival of The Sadist (Igawa) and his group of Kabuki-masked sidekicks puts Everly and her mother in mortal jeopardy, as Everly finds herself caged and forced to watch as her mother is threatened with various forms of acid.

Everly - scene

Beginning with a dark screen and a soundtrack filled with a woman’s cries of pain and then followed by an overhead shot of a heavily-tattooed, and naked, woman stumbling into a bathroom, Everly announces itself as a less-than-subtle action movie from the get-go. And so it proves, with ever more ridiculous bouts of frenzied action, ever more inane dialogue (which culminates in Taiko arriving and displaying his knowledge of the Psycho’s Book of Villainous Monologues), ever more uncomfortable moments involving the five year old Amayah, and the narrative skipping merrily from one absurd scene to the next in its quest to be as over-the-top as possible.

And therein lies the main problem with Yale Hannon’s overcooked screenplay: it tries too hard to be hip, funny and profane. Its hyper-stylised violence aside, the movie is a cornucopia of awkward humour – Maisey wanting to open a Xmas present that has a policeman’s head inside – and misjudged sentiment: Everly being able to convince Anna not to kill her straight away. (As plot devices go, this one is about as credible as Everly being shot in the side and it leaving huge entrance and exit wounds, wounds she then shrugs off for the rest of the movie.) Add in The Sadist’s cruel, icy menace, and Taiko’s barely suppressed rage, and you have a script that borders on misogyny at the same time as it propagates the idea of the strong, determined woman who’ll defend her family at all costs (as long as she’s wearing a tight-fitting, bust-enhancing bra and top).

Hayek is lumbered with a role that allows her to show Everly as brave, vulnerable, resourceful, sensitive, determined, and sometimes scared and fearless in the same scene (there are times when the actress looks as bewildered by what’s happening as the viewer probably is). But this is a movie where the main character is the movie, and without Hayek throwing herself into it – literally – a lot of what passes for serious dramatics would fall flat on its face in seconds (that original choice Kate Hudson would have been as good is hard to imagine). Hayek is rueful, proud and undeniably sexy (even when spattered with blood), and she dominates the movie, her sharp-angled features as expressive as ever, and her sheer physicality in the role proving a decided bonus.

Of the supporting cast, Kotabe as the kind-hearted yakuza “Dead Man”, and Cepeda as Everly’s worried, and harried, mother make the most impact, while Watanabe tries to be cold-hearted and threatening but succeeds in making Taiko peevish and grouchy instead, and considering the relative ease with which she’s offed around two dozen or so people, unable to realise just how deadly Everly can be (frighteningly so, in fact, showing an aptitude for handling and using guns that is never even close to being explained properly). With the main villain given such a build-up, to have him “monologue” and give Everly too many chances to kill him, it’s a wonder he’s made it as far as he has.

On the technical side, Steve Galner’s cinematography adds a pleasing amount of gloom to proceedings, and the movie never once looks as garish as you might expect. The action scenes are ably assembled by editor Evan Schiff and have a visceral intensity about them that keeps the movie ticking over from one outlandish stunt to the next, and Ondrej Nekvasil’s production design helps play down the fact that the apartment varies in size from scene to scene. Overseeing all this, Lynch displays a fondness for odd camera angles that don’t always enhance the image, but he does score highly in the way he stages each new assault on Everly with a fair degree of visual inventiveness.

Rating: 4/10 – uneven throughout, and lacking the flair needed to carry this beyond being just a vicarious thrill-ride, Everly is a balls-to-the-wall action movie whose reach is let down by its grasp; Hayek is great, but is let down by haphazard plotting and shifts in tone and perspective that don’t always work.