The concept of a mismatched pair of killer and non-killer is so pervasive in cinema that another one of its kind is already in theaters right now (the Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista-starring Stuber). Mackie’s nurse Paul and Grillo’s hardened criminal Abe go from fear to hatred to begrudging respect to bro-dom just as one would expect. The action includes car chases, gun fights, creatively destructive use of surroundings, and is all scored by a jaunty soundtrack.
This is a film you can set your watch to. Everything is as expected…except for the one thing. This epic story of gangs, gunfights, crooked cops, and explosions is set in the Queen City. That’s right, baby: the third most populous city in Ohio, home of German architecture, the Bengals, and grotesque chili.
Of all the fundamental components of fiction, setting is often the one to get the shortest shrift…at least in marketing materials. Nothing in Netflix’s promotion of Point Blank mentions its Cincy setting, but rather focuses on the central plot of a nurse having to save his pregnant wife by teaming up with an injured murder suspect. It’s the southern Ohio setting and pretty much the Southern Ohio setting alone, however, that makes Point Blank…curious. Not good, not great, not fascinating…but, curious. And curious is an OK thing to be when operating in such well-trodden genre ground.
Make no mistake: much of Point Blank is well-trodden genre ground. The film opens with Abe (Grillo) fleeing the scene of a violent crime only to be struck down by an automobile at an inopportune time. He’s unconscious body is transported to the local hospital where it finds itself in the care of Paul (Mackie), who is working late shifts to get prepared for the impending birth of his first kid. When the local PD tracks down Abe in the hospital, Abe’s brother, Mateo (Christian Cooke), kidnaps Paul’s pregnant wife (Teyonah Parris), forcing Paul to hep Abe escape and setting the two down a buddy action comedy path. On their case is one of those classic hardened Cincinnati detectives you hear so much about (played by Marcia Gay Harden).
The fact that all of this action is going down in such a relatively small, rarely depicted on film American city gives Point Blank most of its playful energy and therefore appeal. I’m probably biased as a native Ohioan (though from the far superior Cleveland up north) but it feels inarguable that the setting is the only aspect of the movie that will make viewers press pause and go “Wait, what?” And that “wait, what?” moment is exactly what a story this conventional needs. What would just be another bland story of cops and robbers in L.A. or New York comes across as slightly more colorful and novel here.
Granted, Cincinnati is nowhere near a “character” in Point Blank. It likely wasn’t chosen to be the film’s setting for any reason more complex than the city ponied up the necessary tax breaks before others did. It has nowhere near the transformative effect on the story as say, Albuquerque in Breaking Bad but its existence allows Point Blank to have a sense of specificity and place that slightly nudges the movie over the line from boring to watchable.
That quirky setting also jives fairly well with Point Blank’s equally quirky casting decisions. Mackie and Grillo are both best known for their roles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Mackie portraying Captain America’s buddy Sam Wilson a.k.a. Falcon and Grillo portraying Captain America’s not-buddy Brock Rumlow a.k.a. Crossbones. The sheer novelty of Falcon and Crossbones running around in Cincinnati together mostly carries Point Blank through its shockingly reasonable 80-minute runtime. When watched as an extended meme (which is what most of Netflix’s action offerings seem to be going for anyway), it’s a generally valuable experience.
As a movie, itself, however, Point Blank doesn’t quite hold up. No amount of references to Graeter’s ice cream can make up for the fact that Mackie and Grillo each work best in supporting roles. In terms of onscreen charm and charisma, both actors are better served when they are extremely overqualified supporting figures like they are in the Marvel Universe or The Purge, rather then when they’re slightly underqualified to carry the action themselves. And while Point Blank’s scant 80 minutes is a blessing for the viewer, it’s also a curse for its characters who don’t have the proper space to create a believable relationship.
Point Blank’s conclusion suffers from relying on a character who is introduced only minutes prior. It also operates on the ridiculous assumption that the American public will care when presented with evidence of crooked policing. As directed by Joe Lynch, the action leaves a bit to be desired at well. Perhaps we are spoiled by the mind-bending, budget-busting mayhem of Fast and Furious series and its like but one car bursting into flames is inarguably far too few cars bursting into flames.
Still, Point Blank ekes out a meager existencesucceeding where and when it can. The setting really does go a long way in establishing a more believable, lived-in, and even at times wacky world. When viewed in the right mindset, Point Blank is a kind of tongue-in-cheek take on the buddy action movie in every bit the way that Stuber is. Problem is: it’s not always clear if Point Blank fully understands it’s a parody.