21 Bridges Review: Lots of Bullets, Very Little Brains

There's been something of a quiet resurgence when it comes to '90s testosterone action flicks, and director Brian Kirk (Luther, Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful) takes run-n-gun down that lane with his new film, 21 Bridges. The movie is a fitting B-movie throwback to the hard-boiled (and very violent) crime-thrillers of the past, which, unfortunately, includes a half-cooked plot with predictable twists and logic that quickly unravels under any kind of scrutiny. Still, as far as matinees go, 21 Bridges will impress anyone looking for standard action-thrills, and/or anyone who's an established fan of Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman.

The plot of 21 Bridges follows police detective Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman), whose traumatic past has led him down a dark career path. Andre is known in the cop community for being the cop that takes out the worst killers running the streets — and that reputation is exactly what gets him dragged into a bloody new case. Andre is called out to Brooklyn in the midnight hours to investigate a scene of mass carnage, after a drug heist gone wrong leaves an entire squad of cops murdered in the streets. The two gunmen are fleeing through the streets of NYC, and once the cops identify that the killers are in Manhattan, Andre bargains with the FBI to shut down the island for a few hours so that he can hunt down his prey.

As stated, 21 Bridges is built on the thin bones of Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan's story and script, which recycles just about every '90s crime-thriller trope you can think of. The big twists and betrayals in the story are obvious right from the start, raising the question of why they're even treated as secrets at all. There's also the "invincible hero" who never once seems out of step or in real danger of any kind, taking out all foes with just one small glock pistol. Thankfully, the plot doesn't require much depth or intelligence to keep the momentum going: it's a race of mere hours set in the Manhattan streets, which basically means a race from one action set piece to another. As long as the chase is on, there's little concern for why the chase is happening at all. To his credit, director Kirk makes it all look pretty slick, with darkly lavish tones and some genuinely thrilling sequences. Hitting those marks fulfills the basic requirement for most casual viewers who may be wondering if 21 Bridges is worth a theater trip.

While the story may be weak, and the action just suitable, but what ultimately pushes 21 Bridges over into "worth seeing" territory is the strength of the cast. At this point, it's undeniable that Chadwick Boseman is a commanding and charismatic leading man, and here he proves that he can even anchor shoddier material like this. Sienna Miller gets deep into the part of grizzled narcotics detective Frankie Burns — though the English actress' growling NYC accent sounds like a Saturday Night Live parody rather than spot-on performance. What really helps balance things are the performances of the two gunmen characters, played by Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Lone Survivor, American Assassin) and Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk). Both actors make something more nuanced out of generic villain characters, with Kitsch bringing the menace and James providing some humanizing heart. The cast is rounded out with talented actors filling in bit parts, including J.K. Simmons (doing his best "J.K. Simmons" riff), Keith David, Alexander Siddig, Gary Carr, Jamie Neumann, and other faces you've probably seen pop up recently in popular TV shows and films.

It's the cast working as an ensemble, scene-by-scene, that keeps this train on the proverbial rails, so hopefully Brian Kirk thanks them for doing more, with so much less.

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Review: 3 out of 5

21 Bridges is now in theaters.