The much-maligned Jessica Chastain-fronted hitwoman picture “Ava” is now available theatrically (it’s playing exclusively at Georgetown Cinemas here in Indianapolis, Ind.), on VOD and for rental at Redbox. While the movie’s not good, it’s better than many critics are making it out to be (it’s currently rocking a 22 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 38 on Metacritic). Straight up, “Ava” is for folks who wanted “Atomic Blonde” to feel more like a Lifetime movie.
Chastain stars as our titular heroine, who turned her back on her father, mother, Bobbi (Geena Davis), sister, Judy (Jess Weixler of “Teeth,” a movie my wife and I watched together in the early stages of our relationship and are still making references to and jokes about 12 years later) and fiancée, Michael (Common), in the wake of familial dysfunction. She Martin Blanks ‘em all by joining the Army and later becoming a hit person under the tutelage of Duke (John Malkovich).
Ava returns to her family and hometown of Boston eight years later following her father’s passing. Michael and Judy are now an item. There’s no love lost between mother and daughter, but Ava has bigger fish to fry in maintaining her hard-fought sobriety and keeping a target off her back for breaking agency protocol. The black ops organization she works for (embodied by Colin Farrell’s Simon) is gunning for her after a botched job.
“Ava” reunites Chastain with her “The Help” director Tate Taylor. The results are a mixed bag, but I find it kinda funny that Taylor keeps dipping his toes into genre filmmaking with the leading ladies of “The Help” after having made horror flick “Ma” with Octavia Spencer last year. (I’m eagerly anticipating his Emma Stone Western and Viola Davis sci-fi vehicle. Hell, maybe he could remake “Salò” with Bryce Dallas Howard?) “Ma,” a movie I enjoyed more than most, is better than “Ava” … which I also seem to enjoy more than most.
Many of the movie’s shortcomings stem from its script by actor-turned-writer/director Matthew Newton (he played Armand in the 2002 Aaliyah-fronted Anne Rice adaptation “Queen of the Damned”). “Ava” is the first film Newton’s written that he didn’t direct. It wants to be an action movie, a character study and a domestic drama and doesn’t totally succeed at any of these avenues. It’s mostly just cliché city.
Newton isn’t done any favors at times by his director (employing speed ramping when filming Chastain doing karate kicks in her hotel room looks ridiculous as opposed to cool) and leading lady (Chastain brandishing a machine gun lacks the authenticity of Charlize Theron doing the same and is downright laughable). Chastain comes across better sporting a pistol, knife fighting and especially in the hand-to-hand combat sequences. She’s an actress I’ve always liked and admired, but she seems above this even if she steered the project creatively serving as a producer.
The supporting cast are hit-or-miss. Malkovich and Farrell (bringing BIG Tom Skerritt in “Top Gun” energy with his haircut and mustache) are fun. They too get in on the fisticuffs and appear to enjoy working with one another and with Chastain. Davis is crackerjack casting as a clever nod to Renny Harlin and Shane Black’s “The Long Kiss Goodnight.” As nice as it is to see Davis again after a prolonged big screen absence – the filmmakers should’ve given her more to do, though she does solid work with one meaty scene opposite Chastain. I like Common. He seems like a cool dude. But he can’t act. The cat is a charisma void on screen and often just stares blankly when delivering dialogue. He may be at his absolute worst here. Promising young actress Diana Silvers (“Booksmart,” the aforementioned “Ma”) is kinda wasted playing the daughter of Farrell’s character who’s following her father into the family business. (He’s old enough to play her Dad?!!! Man, I’m getting old.) She figures prominently into a final scene that either hints at a sequel that’ll likely never happen or concludes the picture on a foreboding open-ended note. I’m OK either way as I wasn’t mad at the $2.14 and 96 minutes I spent watching “Ava,” and that’s about all it’s worth.