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Momentum

D: Stephen S. Campanelli / 96m

Cast: Olga Kurylenko, James Purefoy, Morgan Freeman, Lee-Anne Summers, Colin Moss, Brendan Murray, Hlomla Dandala, Greg Kriek, Shelley Nicole

On the face of it, Momentum looks like another generic action movie with its central protagonist on the run from a team of highly skilled assassins who are after something the central protagonist has in their possession. And so it goes: Momentum is exactly that kind of movie. But while it certainly follows a very worn and well-trod path, there’s also enough here to warrant more than a cursory glance or viewing, because even though it could be accused of being derivative and occasionally unappealing, it has an energy and a clear sense of purpose that elevates the material and makes it a more enjoyable experience than expected.

It begins with a very odd sight: four bank robbers dressed like extras from a G.I. Joe movie breaking into a vault while bank staff and customers alike cower in fear of being shot by the usual robber with a hair trigger. The robbers steal a fair amount of diamonds and, in amongst them is a flash drive. As they’re about to leave, the robber with a hair trigger gets mouthy with the gang’s leader and winds up dead for his trouble – but not before he’s unmasked the leader who turns out to be a woman. Said woman is Alex (Kurylenko), and she’s been persuaded to take part by co-robber, Kevin (Moss). Later, at a hotel, Kevin’s idea of extra insurance re: selling the diamonds leads to the arrival of Mr Washington (Purefoy) and his team of mercenaries, who want the drive. While Alex hides under the bed, Kevin is killed. She manages to escape, and with the drive, but Washington is soon hot on her trail.

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She makes it to the home of third robber, Ray (Murray). While she’s there, Alex contacts Kevin’s wife, Penny (Summers) to warn her that her life is in danger from Washington and his men but Penny is dismissive thanks to previous animosity between her and Alex. This doesn’t stop Alex from heading for Penny’s home when Washington learns her address. There she takes out two of Washington’s men, and tracks them to their hideout in an abandoned factory. For a while she has the upper hand, but is outsmarted by Washington and captured. Washington begins to torture Alex for the whereabouts of the drive, until he realises that Alex is a lot more than she seems, and changes his approach. This leads to Washington obtaining the drive – or so he believes – at the airport, but Alex has other ideas.

It should be noted from the outset that Momentum has plot holes the size of Table Mountain (seen briefly in an aerial shot of Cape Town, where the movie takes place). The biggest and most obvious plot hole concerns the flash drive itself. As the movie’s version of Hitchcock’s favoured McGuffin, the flash drive contains evidence of a plot to destabilise the US by a crooked senator (Freeman). Why it happens to be in a safety deposit box in the vault of a Cape Town bank is a question the movie never gets anywhere near answering. And where Alex gets her incendiary devices from – one pops up out of nowhere – is another mystery you might as well forget about chasing an answer for. This is an action thriller that concentrates on its various action sequences and only occasionally remembers it has a (basic) plot to refer to.

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But within that framework there’s much to enjoy, from Kurylenko’s tough-as-nails Alex, a woman with a very specific past that, along with the movie’s denouement, is designed to enable further adventures, to Purefoy’s debonair assassin, a winsome, laidback, much needed performance that offsets the rest of the movie’s defiantly grim proceedings. Both actors are well-cast, and the nature of both characters is brought splendidly to the fore, despite the sometimes banal dialogue they have to recite thanks to screenwriters Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan. As adversaries, they make a good team.

There’s also the not-so-small matter of the action sequences, which often belie the movie’s budget, and which are confidently and expertly staged. Kurylenko acquits herself well in these scenes, and there’s a sense that the makers were looking for a harder edge than usual, as Alex’s way of dealing with Washington’s team is often uncompromisingly brutal. That said, the movie baulks at putting Alex in too much physical danger, even when Washington has her leg in a vice and is determined to torture the whereabouts of the drive out of her. Elsewhere, the movie’s treatment of its secondary female characters – Penny, Kevin’s insurance policy Jessica – leaves something to be desired, as well as a couple of instances where children are threatened for no other reason than that they can be.

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There are a couple of twists and turns, and the script takes time out to provide Alex with a back story that explains her particular skill set, but the emphasis is on moving things along as quickly as possible. This does lead to a number of risible moments where convenience is the order of the day, and coincidence rears its head to poor effect, but by and large Momentum concentrates on being a thrill ride, and in that respect it succeeds with aplomb. There isn’t a stand out sequence as such, but taken as a whole, the movie works in a better fashion than expected, its narrative proving a mix of standard action tropes and waspish humour that is enjoyable and mostly rewarding. Campanelli, making his feature debut after a successful career as a camera operator on movies as diverse as The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and J. Edgar (2011), handles the visuals well and finds creative ways of using space, and depth of field, in the action scenes. Wisely, perhaps, he leaves Kurylenko and Purefoy to do their own thing, though Freeman (who shot his scenes over two days) looks uncomfortable trying to create a villain out of nothing.

Rating: 6/10 – clumsy in places and lacking cohesion, Momentum is on firmer ground when it lets Kurylenko and Purefoy play cat-and-mouse amidst all the violence, and said violence is taking up much of the running time; a guilty pleasure perhaps, but one that at least knows where its faults lie, and which doesn’t worry too much about them.

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