Although not among the first films to employ the out-of-sequence narrative; “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather, Part II” (TGPII), “Pulp Fiction,” and “The Usual Suspects” are four of the highest-profile movies most cinephiles associate with this tricky, volatile, easy-to-mess-up storytelling device.
In their new spy thriller “Agent Game,” director Grant S. Johnson (“Frat Star,” “Nighthawks”) and his screenwriters Tyler W. Konney and Mike Langer hopscotch from present day to three weeks ago, to five weeks ago, and finally to two weeks ago—well over 50 times—with only a minor overlapping of characters.
To put that in perspective, the original cut of “TGPII” (with a running time of 186 minutes) had a dozen time jumps between just two time frames, and most critics labeled it a disaster after the advance press screenings. With only three weeks remaining until the general release, director Francis Ford Coppola and his three editors reassembled it with less than half of the original number of back-and-forths. It remains the only unplanned sequel in history to ever win the Oscar for Best Picture.
Disorienting on Purpose?
Perhaps purposely, the filmmakers wanted “Agent Game” to be disorienting, as it underscores the often double and triple motives of spy agencies and their operatives, particularly those messing about without official U.S. government approval.
While he’s only on-screen for less than 20 or so minutes, Olsen (Mel Gibson) is the center of the universe in the film that all of the remaining players revolve around. Working as a higher-up (but not top) official for an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency, Olsen is a true chess master and calculating people reader.
According to Olsen, this agency exists solely to prevent wars by effectively kidnapping domestic and international unfriendlies and transporting them to countries on good terms with the United States who turn a blind eye to what most would deem to be excessive interrogation practices.
11 Herbs and Spices
The best segment of the film features Olsen interviewing Miller (Katie Cassidy, daughter of the late David Cassidy), Kavinsky (Adan Canto) and Reese (Rhys Coiro), a scruffy, wisecracking type who could have easily been a member of the “A-Team.” He also delivers some of the funniest lines of dialogue, including guarding the secrets to the original “11 herbs and spices” Kentucky Fried Chicken recipe and how his mental health began deteriorating after serving duty in multiple countries ending in “-stan.”
This trio is extremely talented in their own ways but all come with flaws which the glad-handing Olsen readily points out. Being interviewed in a generic, nondescript Washington office, all of them have bottomed-out to some degree or another and each is semi-to-heavily desperate for redemption, something Olsen senses like a shark sniffing blood in shallow waters.
Opening with the last chronological event, the story then kicks in with the extraction of somebody Olsen really wants silenced but whose identity isn’t revealed until well into the third act. It’s the best twist in the entire film.
In a location labeled on-screen as “Black Site, Eastern Europe” are Bill (Jason Isaacs), Harris (Dermot Mulroney), and Vissir (Annie Ilonzeh) who, at various points, attempt to extract sensitive information from the captured Omar (Barkhad Adbi), the supposed leader of the fictional terrorist organization, the “Crescent Democratic Front.”
Shot entirely in Savannah, Georgia, “Agent Game” presents scenarios that, given what has been revealed regarding intelligence gathering methods over the last two decades in the real world, play out as entirely and eminently plausible. This isn’t a generic thriller with base-level, generic dialogue being loudly barked out by the likes of Liam Neeson, Sylvester Stallone, or [insert the name of any once-bankable has-been action star with pronounced two-day stubble here].
Maybe Too Smart for Its Own Good
Even under duress, none of the characters ever resort to bellicose tirades, hissy-fits, or over-the-top, extended monologues with an overcooked backing score. They speak and behave like disciplined, highly trained, tight-lipped black operatives. They’ve been groomed to say nothing and to make their enemies give up everything. It is far from the typical, garden-variety shoot-‘em-up, but it might just be too smart for its own good.
That said, those looking for a movie which favors intellect over pyrotechnics will be quite pleased, until the perhaps last 15 minutes. This is the point where the filmmakers decide to dumb it down and include an extended nighttime exchange of automatic gunfire which defies all laws of probability and physics.
Gangs That Can’t Shoot Straight
Evidently, the characters here have uber-extended, “Super Fly” magazine clips which hold hundreds of rounds that never need to be replaced. The people firing the weapons also have atrocious aim as a group of close to a dozen well-trained combatants within yards of each other can’t seem to get close to hitting their targets. An untrained person shooting with their eyes closed after a couple of drinks hip-deep in quicksand could net better results.
Depending on your opinion regarding sequels, you’ll either be thrilled or quite disappointed with the ending. Rather than provide some decent level of closure, the filmmakers wrap it up with the assumption that the movie will knock so many people’s socks off that the studio will have no choice but to order another.
The good news is there are enough unresolved sub-plots and dangling story threads to warrant a sequel, but if “Agent Game” fails to recoup or exceed its (as of yet unknown) budget (likely $20-$40 million), there won’t be a sequel and we’ll be left with the memory of a pretty good movie which failed to deliver on its promising build up and left us hanging.
Director: Grant S. Johnson
Stars: Mel Gibson, Jason Isaacs, Dermot Mulroney, Katie Cassidy, Adan Canto, Rhys Coiro, Annie Ilonzeh
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: April 8, 2022
Rating: 2.5 out of 5