Milkshakes with powder, the last John Wick imitation, can be described like this: What if this gathering moment of female superheroes from Avengers: Endgame was developed into a full two hour movie, starring one of the actors in that specific scene and incorporating lots of bisexual lighting and a cute kid for good measure? The simplicity (and arguably superficiality) of this kind of girl-power-rah-rah energy is the fuel of Netflix without nuance, without grace, often without interest. Milkshakes with powder. The film’s intermittent delights are momentarily satisfying, but the numbness sets in afterwards, like the brain freeze that blossoms after drinking the film’s titular ice cream.
A set of seemingly lab grown and algorithmically assembled elements, meant to appeal to everyone, Milkshakes with powder has a strong supporting cast. (Particularly Game of thrones‘Lena Headey, who outshines star Karen Gillan, aka guardians of the galaxy‘s Nebula.) There are some thrilling action sequences, and the production design swings between emulating the neon-soaked indulgence of Nicolas Winding Refn and the uncool neo-blacks of Michael Mann. But it’s hard to say what Navot Papushado’s directorial style might look like when Milkshakes with powder looks like a purse of other filmmakers ‘quirks, from Zack Snyder’s slow-motion pans to JJ Abrams’ instant zooms. Like so many recent action movies, Milkshakes with powder is hampered by an overzealous editing style that denies viewers the satisfaction of moving bodies. And like so many recent films aimed at female audiences, it is full of feminist promises that end up losing weight.
Milkshakes with powder do not completely ignore the cause of women who support women. A mother protects her daughter, a woman in her twenties befriends and mentors a young girl, and three women welcome family members who have left years before. But there’s no depth, and the script never digs into anything these characters have in common beyond their gender. Milkshakes with powder does the bare minimum, and while it does make some smart aesthetic choices, they don’t add to the uniqueness that a familiar movie like this requires.
Because he is, in fact, familiar. The film is desperately unable to improve upon its obvious influences, from the John Wick franchise to Atomic blonde (with whom he shares a production designer, an artistic director and a decorator), as well as the film by Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill And Gareth Evans’ Lowering and Raid 2. When does homage turn into imitation, and when does imitation fail to entertain? Milkshakes with powder is on the wrong side of both these issues.
Milkshakes with powder uses voiceover narration to introduce Sam (Gillan), an assassin who works for the nebulous, all-male organization The Firm. “They’ve been running things for a long, long time,” Sam says, and she and her master Nathan (Paul Giamatti) have been killing people for them for 15 years, since her mother Scarlet (Headey), also murdered for the Firm, the ‘left behind. Their rain-drenched, purple-lit parting took place at a restaurant Sam still frequents for his milkshakes after murdering his latest target, stitching up his wounds, and further cultivating his terrifying reputation. But after a job goes awry one night and she kills someone unexpected, her life begins to turn upside down.
Nathan tells her that things can be fixed if she finds someone who robbed the firm, kills her, and gets the group’s money back. Over the course of – maybe a night, maybe a few days, the movie isn’t clear on that – Sam gets there, but nothing is as simple as it looks. When she reconnects with the “librarians” (and gunsmiths and gunsmiths) Madeleine (Carla Gugino), Anna May (Angela Bassett) and Florence (Michelle Yeoh), they remind her of her childhood and her mother. The same goes for Emily (Chloe Coleman), the daughter of one of Sam’s victims, who fills her with a sense of personal responsibility. With a target on his back, Sam must use all of his shooting, slicing, stabbing, punching, kicking and mixed martial arts skills to fight his enemies Jim (Ralph Ineson) and Virgil (Adam Nagaitis). . “Just another day at the office,” she says impassively, but that’s not quite true – especially not when her long-lost mother returns.
Between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jumanji franchises, Gillan is now an action star. So why is she passing Milkshakes with powder make an ineffective impression of Uma Thurman instead of cultivating her own view of Sam? The film opens with a lovely shot of a bar of red light only illuminating Sam’s eyes in a dark, blood-splattered apartment, but its first hour drags on due to how Gillan confuses stiffness and serious.
It doesn’t help that the tone of the script, co-written by director Papushado and Ehud Lavski, is all over the place, requiring only goofy lines (“You haven’t touched your milkshake”) and phrases like “clean brooms” ) is pronounced with complete frankness. And the urgency with which Milkshakes with powder wants to prove her feminist good faith (Sam making it clear that she has no problem killing women, although the movie never actually asks her to; librarians load her with weapons hidden in books by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre and Virginia Woolf; a villainous whining about his daughters) doesn’t feel sincere, given that most of the film’s leading crew are male.
Nevertheless, there are thrills to Milkshakes with powder for those who are willing to ignore boredom. A brawl in a dentist’s office, with a gun and scalpel stuck to Sam’s hands as she whirls, spins and takes on three villains, takes her time to capture Gillan’s body, from her awkwardly efficient beating to its problem solving in a fraction of a second. A car chase where Emily sits on Sam’s lap and helps her circle around a parking lot, zooming in, drifting and pulling away from two chasing cars, is well paced. And although the major fight scene in the middle of the movie suffers from such a jarring cut-out that even Michael Bay might say, “Hey, guys, cool,” the second hour of Milkshakes with powder absolutely improves when Headey, Gugino, Bassett, and Yeoh have more screen time. Their screen presences are so unique, and their comedic timing is so good (Yeoh’s funny “It’s a Tooth” when she pulls something out of her hair) that they somewhat balance out the other disappointing elements of the film.
Are they redeeming a bizarre ending that needlessly absolves Sam of any wrongdoing, but of course leaves room for a sequel? They don’t. But when Milkshakes with powder has so little success, Headey’s sly half-smile, Bassett’s exasperated deliveries, Gugino’s clenched jaw as she steps behind a mounted machine gun, and Yeoh’s effortless eyepatch wearing will have to do the trick. ‘case.
Milkshakes with powder is now streaming on Netflix.