Well, here we are in 2021, the pandemic still with us, movie theaters still unsafe to visit, and for those of us who love movies, we’re reduced to watching them from home. Now, I’m sure some folks have no problem with this. I for one miss the movie theater experience, and I sincerely hope they survive the pandemic and reopen when it is safe. I will definitely be back inside those darkened walls.
In the meantime, I continue to review movies from home, available on streaming services. And as much as I miss the movie theaters, I’m just grateful that new movies continue to be released.
Up today, it’s an action/science fiction flick from Netflix, OUTSIDE THE WIRE (2021), starring Anthony Mackie, and I was excited to watch it because it would be the first film released in 2021 that I would be reviewing, and it felt like an unofficial reminder that yes, even in this pandemic, the movies are still coming. The well is not dry.
So, I was excited.
Sadly, that’s about as far as my excitement went. Yup, OUTSIDE THE WIRE isn’t exactly the most exhilarating actioner going. It’s not bad, but it could have been so much better. The biggest culprit? The script, which isn’t all that sharp. The action scenes run hot and cold as well.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE takes place in the near future, in 2036, and of course, the world is still at war. A young hot shot drone operator Harp (Damson Idris) ignores a direct order and sends a missile into a war zone, killing two of his own soldiers in the process. The way Harp rationalized his decision, he may have killed two soldiers, but he saved the rest of the platoon who would have all died had he not fired the missile.
But he ignored a direct order, and so there are consequences. For some reason, rather than being tossed out of the military, Harp is sent into a war zone in Eastern Europe, the thinking being he needs to gain experience in live combat in order to fully understand being a drone pilot. On his very first day, Harp is assigned to a special commander named Leo (Anthony Mackie) who Harp immediately learns isn’t human. He’s an advanced artificial intelligence prototype, and he tells Harp that he handpicked him for this mission, which will take them “outside the wire,” outside the protection of their troops and into hostile territory.
Their mission, as Leo explains it, is to locate a rogue terrorist who is planning to steal nuclear warheads and use them against the world. Hmm. Where have I heard this plot point before? Try a billion other movies! And so, this is what the rest of the movie is about, with various plot twists and turns, none of them all that interesting.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE is an average action movie, pure and simple. It trends below average for most of the film, but there were certain parts I liked that kept it watchable.
For starters, I enjoyed the two leads a lot. Damson Idris is excellent as Harp, and he channels a lot of a young Denzel Washington in the role. He has an edge, and you feel he has a chip on his shoulder throughout, and with a better script, the role could have been something special, which ultimately, it is not. But Idris is very good.
Anthony Mackie, known mostly these days to Marvel superhero fans as Sam Wilson/The Falcon in the AVENGERS movies and CAPTAIN AMERICA films, plays Leo, the advanced military robot who looks and acts exactly like a human. Mackie enjoys many fine moments and gets the best lines in the movie, but ultimately, the character just isn’t all that interesting, and the big reveals surrounding the character towards the film’s conclusion only made things worse. Where’s Arnold Schwarzenegger when you need him? But Mackie is a fine actor who has also had notable roles in films like THE HURT LOCKER (2008) and DETROIT (2017).
Emily Beecham plays Sofiya, one of Leo’s contacts in the war zone. She’s one of the more interesting characters in the movie.
And Michael Kelly enjoys frequent scene stealing moments as Eckhart, the no-nonsense takes-no-crap military officer. My favorite Kelly role remains his work on the TV show HOUSE OF CARDS (2013-2018) where he played Doug Stamper, the right hand man to the corrupt Francis Underwood.
As an action movie, OUTSIDE THE WIRE should be driven by its action scenes, which here, unfortunately, run hot and cold. The close-up hand to hand combat scenes are sufficiently intense and are the better action scenes in the movie, but the broader battle scenes, the ones involving big guns and missiles and drones and robots just don’t look all that realistic. There’s a very cartoonish look to them, very CGI, and I wasn’t all that impressed. The most memorable action sequence may have been the one to open the movie, where Harp shoots the fateful missile. That’s not a good sign when the best action sequence is the first one.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE was directed by Mikhael Hafstrom who at the very least keeps the pace of this one moving. Like I said, some of the action scenes work, others don’t. Hafstrom also doesn’t take complete advantage of the Eastern European setting either. The film never establishes a clear sense of place.
Hafstrom also directed ESCAPE PLAN (2013), an action film which paired Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a film I liked better than OUTSIDE THE WIRE.
The weakest part of OUTSIDE THE WIRE by far is its script by Rowan Athale and Rob Yescombe. For starters, for a futuristic action thriller, the plot is a snooze, mostly because it offers little that is new. The race to get to a nuclear bomb before the bad guy? Yawn. For some reason, the whole story felt like an episode of the TV show THE BLACKLIST (2013- present) , and I kept expecting to see James Spader show up as Raymond Reddington, cooly offering a much better plot twist than the one offered in this movie.
It does offer some good banter between Harp and Leo, and one of the better conversations is when Leo explains why the military built their superstar robot to resemble a black man. So, there are moments where the script is better, but for the most part, expecially in terms of its general plot, it’s subpar.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE is a classic “mixed bag” of a movie. You’ve got a couple of strong lead performances, paired with some notable supporting performances, some good action scenes, some not so good ones, and a story that is when you come right down to it, a yawnfest. Not that saving the world from nuclear disaster isn’t a compelling story. It’s just that it’s been told so many times, and this film doesn’t really offer anything new in the storytelling department.
OUTSIDE THE WIRE could definitely have benefitted from some outside the box thinking.