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"Those Who Wish Me Dead" Review

 While it was a shocking decision by Warner Bros. to release their entire 2021 theatrical slate simultaneously for one month on HBO Max due to questions as to whether theaters would be open due to Hot Fad Plague 2020-21 and whether terrified people would want to leave their hermetically-sealed bunker to risk certain death at the movies (Narrator: "There has never been great risk. Sheeple are brainwashed idiots.") caused outrage amongst filmmakers who weren't consulted about their films being dumped to streaming - though Christopher Nolan should really sit this one out since he hasn't made a good movie in a decade and Tenet was his worst ever - the positive aspect has been that a whole lot of money has been saved by NOT going to the movies for disappointing movies. From Wonder Woman 1984 to The Little Things to Godzilla vs. Kong, there hasn't been a movie we've watched that at the end we've said, "That would've been worth paying money to see." 

So this week's disappointment was Those Who Wish Me Dead, the second directorial effort by formerly solid screenwriter Taylor Sheridan (writer of Sicario, Hell or High Water, and Wind River which was his directorial debut) which also marks the return of Angelina Jolie to action movies for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately, it's all for naught no thanks to a ridiculously threadbare and coincidence-dependent screenplay. 

The plot, such as it is, opens with a pair of clearly shady guys, brothers Jack (Aiden Gillen, Littlefinger from Throne Games, still unable to pull off an American accent) and Patrick (Nicolas Hoult, Beast in X-Men: First Class, and nailing the accent), presenting themselves as gas company workers to a woman in Fort Lauderdale whose husband is in the shower. They then leave, one notes the other has blood on his shirt, and as they drive off the house explodes. 

We then go to Jacksonville where Owen (Jake Weber) is preparing his son Connor (Finn Little) for school. Conveniently he's watching the news on his laptop and see the explosion reported and we learn the husband was a district attorney. Owen is a forensic accountant, so he figures someone is coming for him to, so he decides to hit the road with his son. 

When the assassins show up, they are conveniently able to determine he saw the news, withdrew $10,000 from his bank account, and thanks to convenient photo on the wall showing Owen with uniformed sheriff's deputy Ethan (Jon Bernthal) at a Montana survival school, a good idea where he's headed. With this knowledge, they are able to take a private jet to Montana and set up an ambush on apparently the only route to this school. Owen is killed, but Connor is able to escape. This displeases their boss, Arthur (Tyler Perry in a one-scene appearance), who tells them to get the boy at all costs. So they toss some road flares into the forest, sparking a massive blaze.

 Intercut with all this is our introductions to Ethan and Hannah's (Jolie) lives. He has a six-month pregnant wife (Medina Senghore) who runs the survival school with him and Hannah is his ex-girlfriend, tormented by the demons of a tragedy the previous year in which shifting winds caused the loss of some of her team and three kids who'd somehow wandered into a roaring forest fire area to conveniently die and torment her. Now she mans a fire watch tower when not getting drunk and parachuting from the back of a speeding pickup truck. (Don't ask.)

 So the orphan boy finds the broken woman while assassins and a raging forest fire moves in. Sounds like a thrilling story, right? Well, it's not. While there are some tense moments, it all feels flat and convenient like how a lightning strike just so happens to fry the radio and satellite phone in the tower, cutting them off from the outside world. (Don't they have lightning and surge protections built into these things for this possibility?)

Jolie's Hannah is so thinly written and it's been so long since we've seen her play anything remotely like this kind of character, it's disorienting, like watching Michelle Rodriguez in a Jane Austen adaptation. Frankly, any actress could've played this role, it's that anonymously vague.  And will someone PLEASE feed her - she was already getting too thin in Wanted and Salt back in the Aughts, but she's so scrawny now that even the kid references it.) It's also weird to see an Angelina Jolie movie where the most badass woman is the pregnant lady as Senghore really gets some stellar beats while Jolie mostly gets beaten and repeatedly hit by lightning. 

I lay the blame on Sheridan and his two co-writers for their flat adaptation of the source novel of the same name. This is the second weak adaptation from him in the past two weeks, cold on the heels of his plot-holey script for Without Remorse. Considering his first three original scripts were solid and acclaimed - Hell or High Water was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar - what is his problem with adaptations where the story and characters are provided being so sub-par. 

Ignoring the bad title which has no bearing on anything in the plot that I can tell, almost everything relies on coincidence or dumb behavior. If the killers don't blow up the DA's house, it doesn't make the news and they don't lose the element of surprise. Movie over. If Owen doesn't see the news report, they find and kill him. Movie over. If he doesn't leave his laptop unsecured (the problem with Unhinged) with a preposterously convenient web history revealing he suspected they were coming they wouldn't know to find the one photo with a cop and the name of the place he'd be going. Movie over. If they didn't kill an innocent passerby then leave her car and body where the cops could find it instead of pushing it over a cliff; if the lightning hadn't burned out the tower's communications; if, if, if. 

It's hard to view as threat two guys whose elite assassin rep seems to rely on dumb luck. There's also a detail where Arthur's SUV has official government plates, but it never factors again, so why have them? And if you're wondering whether it's a good idea for a pregnant woman to be riding a horse, even allowing for the noise factor precluding a motorized conveyance, you're not alone.

Everyone involved with Those Who Wish Me Dead have done much better work in the past, so it's baffling this project amounts to a middling disappointment. The forest fire VFX are mostly fairly convincing, but it's not a disaster movie or a disaster of a movie; it's just lost in the woods.

Score: 5/10. 


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