The best bad movie you’ll see all week: Interceptor

, | Movie reviews

Hmm, something called Interceptor on Netflix. Here we go again, another half-assed action movie for their roster. I’m sure I’ll have completely forgotten about by the time it’s over, if not sooner.

Except that’s not what happened at all.

Before I tell you why I liked Interceptor so much, let me explain what Interceptor is. Interceptor is a smallish bag of money thrown at Chris Hemsworth for making Extraction. Netflix basically said, “Hey Chris, you did us a real solid with that movie we made you shoot in India, so take this money and go play with your friends in front of a camera on a sound stage, then we’ll post it as a movie!”

Now I don’t know for sure this is what happened. But I think it’s safe to infer from these facts:

1) Extraction was hugely successful for Netflix.
2) Chris Hemsworth is a producer on Interceptor and arguably* a cast member.
3) Elsa Pataky, the delightful woman who carries the entire movie on her formidable shoulders, happens to be Chris Hemsworth’s wife.

Elsa Pataky was Gal Gadot before Gadot came along. Pataky was a Spanish model who got into the Fast and Furious movies at some point. I don’t think she’s there anymore, but I can’t be certain. I think her character got killed? Who can even say. But she was there in the background for a while until at one point I looked for her, but I could only see Gal Gadot. One movie it’s Pataky with her lovely accent and cat-like eyes, the next it’s Gadot’s thousand-megawatt smile. It just kind of happened and then Wonder Woman happened — twice! — and now no one remembers Pataky.

But they should watch Interceptor to see what they’re missing, because in a nutshell, Interceptor is a showcase for Elisa Pataky. She deserves it as much as any action hero. She is one heck of a little fireplug, and she manages the kind of physicality that they had to use CG to get from Gadot. One of my issues with the Wonder Woman movies is that Gadot simply cannot move like an action hero. She has no sense of kinetics, or power, or even just athleticism. She can glide forward just fine, as befits anyone with runway experience. But the moment she has to jump or throw a punch or twirl, it’s clear you’re looking at an Israeli fashion model who managed her mandatory military service without acquiring so much as a single martial bone in her body. She is all poise and smiles and lithe limbs.

But Pataky? Let me just show you a picture of her after she’s had her first Sam Hargrave** choreographed fight, which featured gunplay, stabbing, acid, a big red button, and a keycard (part of what makes the fight choreography so good is that the stakes are always clearly spelled out and tracked, and this opening fight scene is the movie’s promise it’s not just going to jerk you around by editing together shots of stunt performers randomly pretending to punch each other):

My god that body. And I don’t mean that in a lascivious way. Although, yes, she’s hot. But those arms and shoulders, how short and squat she is, that thick midsection. She’s so much fun to watch in action. Not quite up to par with her fellow stunt performers (she’s no Amy Johnston!), but definitely ready to rumble and surrounded by people who are very, very good at making her look like she’s kicking their ass.

In her own way, she’s a lot like the action heroes of the 80s. She has a thick accent (did you catch the line quickly ADR’ed into the beginning of the movie to explain her accent?) and not a lot of range, or even much charm, frankly. Which is why the movie loads all the charm onto the villain, played with just the right amount of flash by a prettyboy named Luke Bracey. You’ve probably never heard of Bracey because he got his big break playing the Keanu Reeves role in the Point Break reboot that you and everyone else didn’t see. I don’t even think I saw it!

The centerpiece of Interceptor is the dynamic between Pataky and Bracey. She’s no-nonsense, tough, driven, serious, full of duty and honor and patriotism. He’s the charismatic bad guy with perfect hair who you expect to start chewing scenery at any moment, but…he resists in favor of interacting with Pataky! It’s the script’s way of treating her the same way the stunt performers treat her: it’s all about making her the hero. He’s so smooth, so confident, so prepared for this heist, that when she foils him, it’s up to him to sell it, much like it’s up to her fellow stunt performers to sell it when she punches them. As an actor, Bracey is as generous as Interceptor’s stunt performers.

It’s a great dynamic, too, for how the movie brings into play a subplot about sexual harassment. This even lends a bit of depth to Pataky’s superficial acting. There’s perhaps the implication that she was too bitchy or hard-bitten to succeed, not flirty enough, not willing to play the games that woman have to play. She’s got a country to serve, even if it means having to wear a resting bitch face! I really like how all this spins out with the villain, because it’s not the way you expect.

I’m not saying Interceptor delivers any meaningful statements about the unique challenges women face. By the time the credits roll, it was only ever a dopey action movie. But it uses the issue of sexual harassment to good effect as a plot device. The reveals in the story are well suited to Pataky, to what she can manage as an actor, just as the fights are well suited to what she can manage as a fighter. That’s the mandate for this movie — can Elsa Pataky pull it off? — and it works 100%. In fact, the climactic scene is all about upper body strength. Absurdly so, but if you’re going to make that the fulcrum for your finale, Elisa Pataky is your woman! And the script demands that she be a woman. Interceptor is to Die Hard as Lady Bloodfight is to Bloodsport.

Interceptor is a low budget movie, as you’ll be able to tell from the supporting cast, the sets (tens of dollars must have gone into these sets!), the cinematography, and the CG. But none of this matters. For instance, the difference between bad CG in a movie like this and bad CG in other movies is that the CG in Interceptor is only ever used for establishing shots. It’s only used to show you things that are happening so you don’t need a character to come onscreen and tell you, “We’re on a ship now!” or “Some missiles just launched!” or “This broadcast is being seen around the world!”. Like it or not, “show don’t tell” necessitates movies like Interceptor having occasional scenes of ships or planes or missiles or explosions. But what sets it apart is that all of these scenes are strictly functional; none of them is set up as a cinematic spectacle or an action sequence. None of them conveys narrative (with the very brief exception of a single obligatory “oh no, is the missile going to blow up in time?” bit of suspense near the end). The bad CG is no more an issue than the strings holding up a model spaceship in an old movie. Can you still appreciate those old movies? Of course you can. No one’s enjoyment of, say, Dr. Strangelove is affected by seeing the strings holding up the model bombers, because it’s not a movie about bombers. That’s my feeling about low budget movies like Interceptor. If it had been a creature feature or a movie about military hardware in action, the quality of the CG would have mattered. But it’s a movie about Elisa Pataky’s amazing shoulders, her banter with Luke Bracey, and some solid fight choreography, all in the context of a silly but fun “save the world from terrorists” plot.

So, Netflix, if this is the kind of stuff you’re going to keep doing, have at it! And please put Elisa Pataky in more movies where she’s not just standing around behind Vin Diesel, because her front and center is exactly what a goofy action movie needs.

* not a claim I would make, much less accept, but I can understand why the paperwork might read this way

** like I said, Hemsworth was sent off to play with his friends, who include Hargrave, a stuntman and choreographer whose work will be familiar to Marvel fans and especially fans of David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde