Are filmmakers having trouble titling their spy thrillers? Think about the names of classic examples of the genre: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. The Ipcress File. Three Days Of The Condor. The Day Of The Jackal. Cool. Evocative. Enticing.
Now consider the following: Salt. Spectre. The Double. Unlocked. Don’t exactly get the pulse racing, do they?
Still, there’s plenty of tension and paranoia to go around in Unlocked, even if its name slips from the mind as soon as you’ve looked at the poster. Noomi Rapace stars as Alice Racine, a former CIA interrogator who’s reluctant to return to the fold after a she failed to foil a terrorist plot five years earlier. But a new threat – in the form of a biological weapon – forces Alice back into action, as she engages in a mad dash around London to track down the killer virus before it’s triggered.
What follows is a fairly rote thriller in the mode of Jason Bourne or TV’s Spooks (which got a forgettable big-screen spin-off, The Greater Good, in 2015). The good news is that veteran director Michael Apted has form in this kind of thing, having brought us the good-but-not-great 90s Bond outing The World Is Not Enough; he brings a decent number of whizzes and bangs to most of Unlocked’s action sequences, which are far more spiky and bloody than in your average Bond or Bourne flick.
The bad news is that the plot’s taken straight from the big book of generic spy films. There’s a sage mentor figure – played by Michael Douglas in a spectacular white roll-neck sweater – an icy handler – Toni Collette, with a cut-glass accent and an even sharper Annie Lennox haircut – and a ruthless CIA boss – played by John Malkovich, who turns in a very Malkovich performance. You know, hard stares, abrupt bursts of shouting, that kind of thing.
At times, it’s difficult to tell whether we’re supposed to take Unlocked seriously or not. Screenwriter Peter O’Brien conjures up the phantom of international terrorism, and Apted, with his unwavering documentary-maker’s eye for the everyday, grounds the movie in a believably multicultural, contemporary London: apparently shot in the middle of October, Unlocked is all steel-grey skies, social housing blocks and run-down concrete car parks. Yet O’Brien throws in the occasional oddity to give us pause, which land on the screen like artefacts from another dimension: Orlando Bloom with an EastEnders accent as an ex-soldier and burglar (seriously, he’s in the middle of pilfering a television when he literally bumps into Alice); Malkovich mugging at Toni Collette over Skype; a terrorist riding a tiny bicycle like a refugee from BMX Bandits.
It’s all very odd, and we haven’t even got to Noomi Rapace’s leading performance. Softly spoken and surprisingly apologetic, Rapace entirely lacks the cool resolve of, say, Angelina Jolie’s turn in Salt – a movie Unlocked resembles, with all its assorted twists and changes of allegiance. (If we didn’t know better, we’d say Unlocked began life as a Salt sequel, in fact – the two movies even share the same producer, Lorenzo di Bonaventura.)
Solidly shot, quite tense in its best moments, Unlocked feels like one of those films you’d catch by accident on a late night cable channel, or might stumble on while flicking through the in-flight entertainment on a trip abroad. It’s by no means an awful film, but it’s several furlongs from a remarkable one. Ironically, it’s Unlocked’s weirder moments that prevent it from being as forgettable as its title: Orlando Bloom muttering about his love of tagines; Toni Collette firing a machine gun the size of a family car; an incredibly strange moment involving a tattooed man, a lift and a pair of angry dogs.
If only the film had continued further down this route, and brought us a more outré take on the traditional spy thriller. More Michael Douglas in ill-advised sweaters; more of Bloom’s opinions on North African cuisine; more terrorists on tiny BMX bikes. Unlocked is one thing – Unhinged would have been far, far more interesting.
Unlocked is out in UK cinemas on the 5th May.