Your mission: Count the spy movie cliches in ‘Unlocked’

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One can justifiably accuse “Unlocked” of being a convoluted and sometimes preposterous thriller, but at least we’re treated to a fine mishmash of clichéd characters and spy-movie tropes that keep us amused long after we’ve given up on all the ridiculous twists and turns and double-crosses.

Example: our heroine thinks she’s among friends, but thanks to a conveniently placed pair of mirrored sunglasses on the table in front of her, she catches the reflection of a gun-wielding assassin. It’s a setup!

Then there’s the scene, early in the film, when a visitor to an office picks up a small model of the Eiffel Tower and waves it around while affecting a terrible French accent.

“Please put that down!” says the occupant of the office, leaving no doubt in our minds something terribly important and importantly terrible once happened in Paris.

Hmmm, wonder if we’ll get a flashback to that fateful incident?

We also get the time-honored exchange in which a seemingly friendly character makes one verbal slip-up in casual conversation, raising a big red flag. Instead of processing and quietly storing away that information, the protagonist immediately calls him out on his lie, creating an instantly dangerous situation.

Not to mention the obligatory father-figure spy who might not be as trustworthy as he seems; the charming local small-time troublemaker with a very particular set of skills indicating there could be more to his story, and the legendarily intimidating supervising spook who shows up at the war room, takes command and says someone will need to send his wife flowers or whatever else it will take to get her to forgive him for standing her up.

If you think I’m giving away too much, trust me: All of those developments are just the tip of the modern-day Cold War Iceberg.

“Unlocked” has the DNA of many a 21st century late summer release: It’s a well-made but terribly uneven film that’s been sitting on a shelf for two years, despite the credentials of the veteran director and a star-studded cast.

I will now talk about that director and some of the main players in “Unlocked,” and in parentheses, you will see references to far better films on their IMDB charts.

Noomi Rapace (the original, Swedish “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” movies) plays the hard-boiled undercover CIA agent Alice Racine, who specializes in interrogating and breaking, aka “unlocking,” suspected terrorists. It’s been five years since Alice was assigned to a desk job after a field operation went tragically wrong — but now she’s been pulled back into the game, whether she likes it or not. There’s a plot afoot to take down London via biological terrorism, and Alice is the best hope to crack the case.

Toni Collette (“Muriel’s Wedding,” “The Sixth Sense”) is the tough-talking head of Britain’s MI5. John Malkovich (“Places in the Heart,” “In the Line of Fire” and oh yes, “Being John Malkovich”) hams it up — surprise! — as Alice’s quirky, shifty supervisor at the CIA.

Orlando Bloom (the “Pirates” and “Lord of the Rings” franchises) tries to go street thug with his Cockney accent and tattoo-spangled neck, but the male model’s cheekbones and man bun don’t help the cause. Michael Douglas (he’s Michael Douglas) is Alice’s longtime mentor, who urges her to forget the past and stop blaming herself for things over which she had no control.

Time and again, the mission is compromised and blood is spilled as Alice scrambles to survive and to untangle the seemingly endless web of deception enveloping her. At times she comes across as brilliant and innovative and clever; on other occasions we’re like, “Come ON, Alice! How did you not see that coming?”

Director Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Gorillas in the Mist,” “The World Is Not Enough”), now 76, films “Unlocked” with no small amount of style — and an acknowledgment we’ve seen much of this before.

One scene is reminiscent of “Rear Window.” A pitch-perfect score accompanies some of the sweeping, overhead establishing shots, telling us danger lurks somewhere below. When Douglas’ sophisticated urbane character is featured, the visuals tones are often rich and golden. When Bloom’s gritty bounder is front and center, “Unlocked” looks more like a bleak indie. This is by no means a sloppy or lazy effort.

But it’s still a mess.


Lionsgate Premiere presents a film directed by Michael Apted and written by Peter O’Brien. Rated R (for violence and language). Running time: 98 minutes. Opens Friday at Hollywood Palms in Naperville and AMC Village Crossing in Skokie, and on demand.

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