Compiled from the leftover bits and bobs of three dozen other (and better) action films, Bastille Day is a barely passable effort that is just thrills without the frills.
⭐ ⭐ ½
Directed by James Watkins (Eden Lake, The Woman in Black) and starring two gruff British hunks in Idris Elba and Richard Madden, Bastille Day is a purely serviceable action rollercoaster filled to the brim with tired clichés and implausible twists.
On the eve of the French national holiday, a nondescript group of Euro terrorists plan to bomb an important political landmark, thus grabbing the attention of the world media and stirring the hearts of likeminded revolutionaries across Paris. Finding himself mistakenly caught in the crossfire is Mason (Madden), a sly American pickpocket with a shady past; whilst Elba plays Briar, a tough CIA operative tasked with bringing Mason in for questioning. Together they uncover the true intentions of the attackers – all whilst the streets of Paris escalate into all-out rebellion around them.
If Elba is using this film as a proving ground for his much-discussed candidacy as the next James Bond, consider me unconvinced. His brooding character matches Watkins’ cheap Parisian alleyway brawls, but his natural swagger and charm is somewhat stifled by some creaky dialogue and thin characterisation. Briar is a cut-copy cop that punches first and chooses to rarely ask questions later, with Elba spending 80% of his time kicking down doors rather that working that trademark charisma.
The buddy-cop dynamic he shares with Madden offers some laughs, and this is where the film really nails it. Working together to exchange quip after quip, the duo inject some fun into the otherwise bland and forgettable action. With a stronger plot to back them up, this fun pairing could’ve pushed the film across the line.
Watkins shares writing duties with newbie Andrew Baldwin; their convoluted screenplay borrows elements from likeminded Eurocentric action thrillers like Taken, Unknown and London Has Fallen, with the third act drawing inspiration from V for Vendetta. Each plot twist is more ludicrous than the last and the finale really stretches the limits of plausibility. Thankfully though, the film neatly sidesteps the same xenophobic pratfalls as Luc Besson’s aforementioned Liam Neeson shoot ‘em up.
Bastille Day offers viewers an entertaining diversion for a tight 90 minutes, but the lasting impression it leaves behind is practically non-existent. Diehard fans of Elba will no doubt enjoy themselves as he kicks, punches and shoots his way though Paris, but this is one action film better reserved for a lazy Sunday Netflix session than a full-priced jaunt to the movies.
Bastille Day is available in Australian cinemas from May 12
Image courtesy of StudioCanal