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Review: 'The Gunman' is too stupid to be smart, too serious to be fun

Sean Penn shows off his gunplay, abs.
The Gunman

Movie stills don't get any better than this.

Open Road

‘The Gunman’
Pierre Morel
Stars: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

“The Gunman” comes from Pierre Morel, the trashy director of “Taken,” but also boasts a screenplay credit for Sean Penn, its sometimes painfully serious 50-something star. What on earth does one expect? The results are weirder, or least harder to classify, than the team-up might suggest. “The Gunman” doesn’t rebrand Spiccoli as another Neesonesque respected thespian-turned-badass, though it does call on him to fight, shoot guns and, unlike Neeson, show off his ripped torso. It starts off seeming socially conscious, raising awareness of international meddling in Africa, with Penn a Special Forces solider with a canine-ian name, Jim Terrier, who’s involved in the assassination of a Congolese official. The deed leads to him losing the love of his betrothed, nurse Annie (Jasmine Trinca), as well as retire, drop out and lead a simple life of atonement.

And yet what follows is unexpectedly boilerplate thriller nonsense — a Bondian globetrotter with a dodgy conspiracy, some cheesy action scenes and a whole mess of other wildly overqualified actors besides Penn. After nearly being taken out by thugs he handily dispatches, Jim suspects he’s become a target for his past sins. He takes to the road, partly to be on the move, partly to reconnect with Annie, who was plucked by a former colleague turned wealthy exec, played with only a bit of bad hair by Javier Bardem. There’s also Ray Winstone, very Ray Winstone-y as an old friend, plus primo Shakespearean (and Oxfordian!) Mark Rylance as another old colleague. Towards the end even Idris Elba shows up.

The only one really trying, though, is Trinca, perhaps because this is one of the first major Hollywood gigs for the Italian actress (known for “The Best of Youth” and Valeria Golino’s nicely understated/gorgeous “Honey”). She probably assumed with a cast like this she was in the big leagues. Instead everyone — including a growly Penn — is in paycheck mode, cruising on their natural screen presences, having some fun but not taking it very seriously. Why would they? Indeed, Morel is the ideal director for this kind of thing, which despite having a screenwriter responsible for “The Indian Runner” and “Into the Wild,” winds up aspiring to be no more than a “Bourne” knockoff for slightly older actors than Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner. May it enjoy its second life as a lazy Sunday TV dad movie.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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