ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2018: Terminal (2018) written and directed by Vaughn Stein
She’s the end of the line
Margot Robbie plays Annie, a femme fatale-type who poses as a waitress in a station terminal bar called End of the Line. She schemes with a mysterious crime boss named Mr. Franklyn in order to take out two bickering hitmen (Vince, played by Dexter Fletcher and Alfred, played by Max Irons) who are perceived to be a threat to the latter’s business. She also becomes embroiled with a terminally ill older man named Bill (Simon Pegg) who has been directed towards her cafe by an elderly station attendant (played by Mike Myers).
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A terminal case of style over substance
This futuristic neo-noir is the feature-length directorial debut of Vaughn Stein, who certainly has an eye for visuals. The film looks like Blade Runner if it were directed by Nicholas Winding Refn: i.e. it is filled with neon-lit nighttime cityscapes, painstakingly symmetrical shot compositions and a whole spectrum worth of colourful lighting schemes. Unfortunately, however, he has failed to construct a worthwhile film behind its hyper-stylised look.
Hands up if you remember the era when low-budget cinema resembled a veritable graveyard of try-hard Quentin Tarantino wannabes. You know, films like Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (1995) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006)? If you lived in Britain sometime between those two “milestones”, then you might also remember a whole rash of Mockney accent-laden homegrown gangster flicks. They were especially prevalent around the year 2000 when they came and went seemingly every couple of weeks. Rancid Aluminium, anyone? Circus? What about Honest, that much-maligned vehicle for girl band All Saints?
Hands up if you had fond memories of that era. Not too many of you? Well, if for some reason you did, then this is your ideal film. There’s the requisite motley all-star cast, most of whom are heavily typecast: Margot Robbie wheels out her sassy Harley Quinn act from Suicide Squad, Dexter Fletcher plays a scowly and sweary old gangster geezer, while Simon Pegg piles on the semi-comedic hangdog self-pity. Okay, so these actors do their thing well enough but really, they should be moving onto greater things by now - especially Robbie, who wowed us of late with her Oscar-nominated performance in I, Tonya. Mike Myers at least tries something a bit different as a decrepit old station attendant who initially seems so utterly irrelevant to the story that you just know he’ll be instrumental in a later twist.
Not that there’s much story up until that inevitable slew of double-crosses and climactic revelations surfaces late on in the picture. There’s a lot of wannabe hip pretension in the dialogue’s endless euphemisms, innuendoes, kiss-offs and Alice in Wonderland references. The characters do virtually nothing for half of the film beyond bickering, flirting and musing about the inevitability of death. There are pointless visual Easter Eggs, for example, a neon sign saying “3 Weeks Earlier” in an attempt to signal a flashback in a clever-clever way, and a bottle of Victory Gin (from George Orwell’s 1984) which Robbie’s character brings out at one point.
It’s also a film which seems to lack any consistent tone or purpose. While there are a couple of funny moments (there’s a marvellous scene where Pegg’s character responds to a rather pathetic knife-wielding mugger with the line “What are you going to do? Butter me to death?”), it’s too bleak and nasty to hit the mark as a comedy (even a black comedy). While it contains elements of intrigue, violence and revenge, it fails to build up the necessary pacing or momentum to work as a thriller. While it looks like it might be set in the future or some sort of alternative reality, there’s never any real thematic reason given as to why it needs to be.
You will probably enjoy Terminal if you are big on visuals over and above everything else. If you are after a more rounded cinematic experience, however, then you are better off looking elsewhere. Or, alternatively, you could bring along a bottle of Victory Gin to tide yourself through it.
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Vaughn Stein
Script: Vaughn Stein
Starring: Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Dexter Fletcher, Mike Myers, Max Irons