Spoilers, but who cares?
Good movies often leave viewers with questions, whether they’re about the plot or our reality. Bad movies can raise questions too. Freelance begs the question of how, in the name of John Cena’s washboard abs, an adventure movie featuring three charming leads fighting for their lives in the beautiful Colombian landscape is utterly boring?
Attorney Mason Pettits (John Cena) hates his job. A former Special Forces operator who left the gig after suffering serious injuries during an attack, Mason is going through the motions of life despite a beautiful if shrewish wife, Jenny (Alice Eve, through no fault of her own), and precocious daughter, Casey. Disgraced investigative reporter Claire Wellington (Alison Brie) has spent several years covering the celebrity circuit after being publicly burned by a bad source. Given the chance to interview Juan Venegas (Juan Pablo Raba), dictator of the fictional South American country of Paldonia, she hires a PMC firm to provide security on the trip. Its head, Sebastian Earle (Christian Slater) happens to be an old friend of Mason’s and convinces him to take the bodyguard job. Paldonia is of course where Mason was injured, and he holds Venegas responsible. But one attempted coup later, Mason, Claire, and Venegas are forced to work together to survive Paldonia’s jungles and return Venegas to his rightful(?) place as ruler.
We know how this goes, right? Claire and Mason get lost in the jungle and bicker before tequila and acoustic guitars fuel their passionate romance. Venegas serves as comic relief and potential romantic rival. We’re supposed to learn Christian Slater was blackmailing Venegas, and he and Mason fight a climactic last battle before the good guys win. Claire and Mason are forced apart as their lives lead them in opposite directions, only for them to come back together at the end. Or something like that.
Unfortunately, Freelance isn’t even clever enough to stick to the formula. Despite Alison Brie oozing enough sensuality to stun a musk ox at 20 paces, all Mason wants to do is get back to the wife who kicked him out even though it seems like their daughter is the only thing holding the relationship together. Christian Slater really is a good guy — relatively speaking — and his PMCs aren’t smuggling heroin and beating dissidents. And the dictator is a good guy, too, because nothing about this movie makes sense. It’s one thing to buck a formula if you’ve got something better in mind. But director Pierre Morel, who once upon a time gave us Taken and District B13, forgot how to direct action scenes, leaving them as flat as the dialogue. It takes real effort to take comedic talent like Brie and Cena and turn them into … this. Juan Pablo Raba delivers the film’s best jokes, though they produce little more than a weak smile. And Peacemaker proved time and again that Cena’s not only built like an action star; he’s an actor capable of fantastic depth and timing. None of that is on display here.
There aren’t enough great adventure movies these days. Kong: Skull Island is the last I can think of to get the comedy and action almost right. This latest effort doesn’t come close. Ignore Hulu putting it at #1 on their “Top 15” list. Freelance wants to be Romancing the Stone, but it’s not even The Lost City.