'Momentum' Made Sluggish by Derivative, Unsavory Trappings

Directed by: Stephen Campanelli; Runtime: 96 minutes
Grade: D

There's a scene early on in Momentum where Alex, the enigmatic thief played by Olga Kurylenko who had previously displayed expert combat capabilities, sneaks up behind the villain pursuing her, Mr. Washington, and pulls the trigger on her gun, only to discover -- with him now facing her -- that it wasn't actually loaded. Shortly after, Mr. Washington (James Purefoy) comments on Alex being "really good", even following a firefight among roughly a half-dozen individuals in close proximity where, in traditional action-movie fashion, bullets missed their targets in all directions. That's the caliber of thrills going on in Stephen Campanelli's feature-length debut: the emphasized abilities and intellects of these covert individuals are in disagreement with what actually plays out in their cat-and-mouse maneuverings, piling up action-movie cliches to form a dull, clunky and, at times, needlessly coarse escapade that cannot be saved by Kurylenko's exotic heroine.

Momentum starts out with a group of militants in neon-lit body armor holding up a high-tech, seemingly impenetrable bank in pursuit of diamonds, the last heist that Alex (Kurylenko) wanted to participate in before returning to her retirement. What she and her team didn't plan around is that the vault also guarded a thumb drive with sensitive government information, earning the interest of higher-ups who don't want these materials to escape into the open. A senator (Morgan Freeman) assigns a team of "cleaners", led by the particularly ruthless Mr. Washington (Purefoy), to rectify the situation and retrieve the missing drive, flushing Alex from her hideout. She'll have to figure out what friends she has left and what kinds of moves she might be able to make in getting her underground, all while staying as low-profile as possible to keep from being recognized. Thus begins the chase to find the highly-trained woman with a clandestine past, one that comes more into focus as the pursuit continues.

Ultramodern bank equipment, a swanky hotel with complicated hallways, and a grimy torture chamber with heavy chains dangling in view suggest the potential for stylish bravado in Momentum, hallmarked by a metallic palette and the scattering of broken glass and sprayed blood amid the urban warfare. This makes for an eye-catching environment in quick bursts -- y'know, the amount found in a trailer -- but the action that takes place in each location doesn't deliver enough brainpower or responsiveness to make the most of these locations. It doesn't help that the heist itself starts things off on a sour note due to how Alex and her crew actually get through the security measures and come into possession of the drive, hoping to distract the audience from the inanity of what's going on with the coolness of neon lights and voice-changing helmets that the robbers wear. Campanelli's visual diversion continues from there, with terse movement and creative angles disguising the impracticality surrounding off-the-mark bullets, skewed fistfights, and crazy car chases.

Despite how Olga Kurylenko commands fiery and/or domineering supporting presences in the likes of Quantum of Solace and Centurion, she can't quite embody the character of a combat-trained criminal in Momentum, her strained presence unable to support the legitimacy of the vigorous action. Against other trained thugs, her attempts at hand-to-hand fighting and ruthless pragmatism are too rigid to be convincing, despite the generous editing work and jittery movement that artificially evoke some liveliness. The wide-eyed gazes and palpable tension Kurylenko brings to her roles are present here, but they're mismatched with the experience and composure expected of a highly-trained individual like Alex. James Purefoy smarms his way through a simple, hot-blooded villain as Mr. Washington, not-so-ironically labeled "one-dimensional" by Alex herself later on, while his entourage of "cleaners" are a medley of uninteresting brutes with little finesse as baddies. Morgan Freeman is, well, Morgan Freeman as the unsavory Senator, sprucing up the quality with little more than a one-location cameo.

One can find any or all of those things in a number of watchable Hollywood crime-suspense flicks, though, ones which might've still been tolerable had the action delivered. What's bothersome about Momentum is the excessive volatility that comes out of the script from Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan, the writers behind the most recent Texas Chainsaw reboot, which pushes the envelope with some fairly grisly elements -- intense threats of forced sex, severed heads, a curiously used bomb -- without suitably justifying the reasons they need to exist within the action. They come across as overly gritty for the sake of being gritty instead of natural extensions of the circumstances, pouring energy into unfun shock value instead of tightening up the dodgy common sense and flimsy character reactions that give the film a lingering falseness from start to finish. When the reveals finally start to flare up in the explosive conclusion to Momentum, the details about the innocuous thumb drive and the secrets of Alex's past, it's difficult to keep moving forward after the draining retread that comes before them.

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