Gunpowder Milkshake is the latest in a line of hyper-stylised, neo-noir action-thrillers going back to John Wick.
At the time it was a welcome change of pace from the no-frills, Liam-Neeson-on-an-x that was dominating the genre. Seven years, though, all that neon is beginning to pall.
Sam (Karen Gillan) is a top assassin for male-dominated crime syndicate The Firm, following in the footsteps of her estranged mother Scarlet (Lena Headey). Then one bad night sees her inadvertently kill the son of a crime boss (Ralph Ineson, leaning heavily on his sonorous basso profundo), putting her in conflict with half the gangsters in the city.
To complicate matters further, Sam has to deal with having a little girl (Chloe Coleman, precocious without being irritating) in tow, kidnapped daughter of a man (fellow Doctor Who alum Samuel Anderson) who Sam has just shot.
Writer-director Navot Papushado cribs from similar movies – let’s call them “bubble-gum actioners” – to mixed effect. Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, and Angela Bassett play a trio of weapons-dealing “librarians” who knew Sam as a kid, but the actual details of who they are and what they do – beyond storing armaments in feminist tomes – are sketchy at best.
Similarly, the rules of the ‘50s-style diner that Sam frequents, which acts as a neutral ground for the criminal classes, are so ill-enforced to the point of irrelevancy. The Continental would never put up with such sloppy behaviour.
All of this is window-dressing, though, to Gunpowder Milkshake’s action sequences. Highlights include Sam testing out the offensive and defensive capabilities of a panda-shaped wheelie case, though others are a bit more derivative.
A scene where Sam’s arms are dead and she’s forced to improvise reminded me both of Equilibrium, if Christian Bale’s character had dyspraxia, and a similar bit of improvisational gunplay to Shoot ‘Em Up. There’s also the presence of Paul Giamatti as Sam’s handler, with whose care Scarlet inexplicably trusts the teenage Sam (Freya Allan).
The relationship between Sam and Emily is nicely underplayed – shades of Leon, as with the crime boss’s shout-y nephew-henchman (Adam Nagaitis) – and Headey gives a more nurturing spin on the mother-warrior-type she honed in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Gunpowder Milkshake is difficult to discuss purely on its own merits, so enmeshed is it with the other offerings of the genre. The movie’s score, composed by Frank Ilman, draws playfully on Spaghetti Westerns. Its cinematography, lensed by Michael Seresin, is crisp and stylish, but you’d struggle to pick it out a lineup.
The movie is pure cinematic empty calories, but any film that involves Carla Gugino mini-gunning henchmen to the tune of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” is worth a taste.
Gunpowder Milkshake is available on Sky Cinema in the UK and on Netflix globally