Outside the Wire

The problem with Outside the Wire isn’t that it’s disposable (or its terrible title). It’s that it doesn’t know it’s disposable. Look, I like the mid-budget action schlock that Netflix has been churning out these days; entertainment meant to be consumed and forgotten soon after. Give me a B-movie that sets its sights on a target and moves like a rocket to get there, mix in a couple of well-staged shoot-outs, and I’m set. Outside tries to complicate things with unexpected twists and turns meant to surprise, but all they do is dull the fun and muddle its initially intriguing ideas.

I watched the movie in 2 halves. I stopped about 45 minutes in because I was falling asleep. Not the movie’s fault. Just tired. The setup was compelling. 15 years in the future, a civil war rages in the Ukraine. Enough detail is given that we get what’s going on, nothing more. Efficient. I like it. American troops with robotic soldiers (called “Gumps,” but nothing remotely interesting is done with them so I don’t know why I even mentioned their names) are in the middle of the conflict, failing at peacekeeping. We’re introduced to Lt. Harp (Damson Idris), a drone pilot fighting the war from the comfort of an airconditioned trailer thousands of miles away. He disobeys direct orders and fires a missile into a combat zone, killing 2 American soldiers, but destroying a vehicle that may have been housing a weapon that could have taken out hundreds more lives if he hadn’t acted fast. He’s arrogant. Doesn’t know shit. I was not on this dude’s side. He’s busted for insubordination and sent to the Ukraine to experience war firsthand. Maybe he’ll learn a little empathy if he actually has to get his hands dirty.

So far so good. The movie didn’t feel like it was necessarily on his side either. Maybe this was gonna a good redemption story.

Damson Idris (left) and Anthony Mackie (looking constipated on the right)

Arriving at the military base, he’s introduced to his commanding officer, who specifically requested Harp because he thinks outside of the box. (If disobeying orders because you think you know better is thinking outside the box…) “He’s not one of us” a Colonel warns our protagonist. We soon find out what he means. The white commander isn’t referring to skin color. At least I don’t think he is. No, Leo literally isn’t human. He looks just like Anthony Mackie, but he’s a completely artificial life form, a robot. How we could have this kind of technology only 15 years in the future, especially when all the other comparable robots in the movie are basically mobile refrigerators with legs…and guns, is best ignored. Leo takes Harp into the war zone to help him find the head of a homegrown terrorist group funded by Russia, who’s trying to access nuclear weapons left over from the Cold War.

So here’s where I paused.

I was interested where this was going. The movie was being coy about Harp’s actions in the opening. Was he right? Seems like we wouldn’t get an answer. Nice touch. The squad’s captain certainly doesn’t think he was and has his men take Harp soon after arriving at the base and beaten. But the captain’s not made out to be a villain. Understandably, he’s pissed that this guy ignored a direct order and got two of his men killed in the process. Sides, thankfully, weren’t taken. I liked where this was possibly going and looked forward to finishing the movie that night.

Once I did, though, most of my goodwill dissipated.     

What followed in the film’s second half was basically a Training Day-esque sci-fi hodgepodge that all but ignored Harper’s arc in favor of half-baked ideas about A.I., war, etc.

One of the big problems is that Anthony Mackie is simply too Anthony Mackie. His performance makes no allusions to the character’s robotic-ness, which is strange because, in the way he’s written, something about him is supposed to be just slightly off. Really, I often forgot he was a robot, only reminded when we see his sometimes translucent torso.

Harp starts the movie as obnoxious, though he’s given enough detail to not just be a silver spooned arrogant asshole. But only just. And really, by the end, his growth or what he was supposed to have learned isn’t clear. He says something declaratory about humanity that’s supposed to close his story, but it feels wholly unearned.

As a B-movie, it does have a good pace and plentiful action. None of it’s spectacular, mostly falling under the typical too many cuts per second action that we get from too many productions these days. I could sort of follow it, but not really. But the booming sound design and visual touches, like the slight jarring of the camera anytime a gun goes off, do lend the sequences some impact.

But it runs out of gas with a good 30 minutes to go, trying to pull a fast one on the audience that’s supposed to wow us with its fancy twists but only leaves us scratching our heads as to why anybody’s doing what they’re doing.   

Meh. What else can I say? I wasn’t expecting much and I didn’t get much in return. Stream at your own risk.

-Pavel Klein

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