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'The Gray Man' is a dull slog

The Gray Man
Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
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Ryan Gosling, about to do more action stuff, in "The Gray Man"

I’d hope at this point we all realize that just because a movie is dumb doesn’t mean it’s bad. Plenty of movies are dumb fun, because they know exactly what they’re doing and you can tell they really enjoy it.

Let’s look at the new mega-budget release from Marvel’s favorite directors, Anthony and Joe Russo. It’s called The Gray Man. And is it dumb? Oh, my, yes. But is it actually bad? Also, yes.

OK, this doesn’t really illustrate my earlier point. But we’re here, we might as well talk about it. The Gray Man stars Ryan Gosling as a secret government assassin who was hired for the job while serving time for murder, although when you think about what he did to go to prison in the first place, it’s not clear why he was so attractive a candidate to the CIA. But regardless of his initial credentials, Gosling is very, very good at his job, and after a decade or so of sanctioned murdering, his new boss gets him mixed up in something nefarious, and Gosling goes on the run from the very people he’s been working for. He’s soon chased by Chris Evans, a private contractor who is also a sociopath, which we know because we’re told that, and also because he quotes Schopenhauer and is generally wacky. We know Gosling is not a sociopath because despite all the murder, there’s one point where he avoids killing a kid.

Ultimately that’s it, chasing and fighting and fighting. And Ana de Armas is in there, too, along with the near-constant throbbing of suspenseful music. Gosling is generally fine, if a bit rote, and Chris Evans is mostly a collection of tics and showy gestures made by previous movie psychopaths. As far as the cast goes, it mostly made me long for the days when actual experts did the martial arts stuff—like, say, Jean-Claude Van Damme and his preternatural ability to do the splits—and our more human heroes seemed more human. When Harrison Ford punched a guy, he looked like Harrison Ford punching a guy. Here, Ryan Gosling is doing moves that seem computer generated, whether they actually are or not.

And this gets to one of the biggest problems with The Gray Man, which is that nothing feels real. And yeah, of course what they’re doing is unreal, it’s an action movie, but nothing feels like actual people doing actual things in actual places. The people are bad cartoons. I’m convinced they wanted to set a record for the number of different locations used in one movie, but I’m using the word “locations” very loosely here, as they mostly consist of large font text on the screen telling us where we are, plus a swooping drone shot, before we just end up in another glossy interior. The Russos render the world’s great cities inert, because it never seems like we’re really anywhere. Which all makes the whole endeavor bone-achingly tedious, because not only are we numbed by the lack of anything we feel like we could really touch and the nonsense video game action, but the script is cobbled together from other movies that have already done basically this same thing. There’s simply no life, which means it can’t be dumb fun. We need a spark, a twinkle, not this dead-eyed approximation. The Gray Man is sad, because it seems like no one cares enough to make it either nerve-rackingly tense or joyfully silly. It’s just a dull, flat gray.

The Gray Man is on Netflix July 22.

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.