There's a moment early on in Tom Clancy's Without Remorse, the Michael B. Jordan-starring film and probable franchise-starter based on Tom Clancy's novels, that, no question, looks cool. Jordan's John Kelly (John Clark in the books) bashes an SUV with a tow truck, hops out, douses the SUV in gasoline, sets it alight, then opens the back door, shoots the driver, then starts demanding information from the baddie in the back while the car is engulfed in flames, seconds from exploding. Awesome shot, but you can't help but think, "This is his plan? This is a mess!"
For me, this is the entire movie in micro. Michael B. Jordan is a true movie star and deserves to rule the roost of his own "known IP." Even though Clancy's been dead for nearly a decade (and Without Remorse was written in 1993) he's still a brand. The problem is you can't simply shove a bonafide talent into something with name recognition and assume that magic will happen. You still need to tell a compelling story, and shoot it in an interesting fashion. Without Remorse, unfortunately, is very much without oomph.
We open in Aleppo, Syria. John Kelly is part of a Navy SEAL team sent in to rescue a captured CIA man. When they get there, though, there are Russian nationals waiting. The operation goes a little sideways, but they still get the job done. But when the surviving crew returns stateside, they find themselves getting bumped-off by mysterious van-driving killers.
Though shot, Kelly survives his attack (because he is the best!) but his pregnant wife does not. After a slow rehabilitation to regain his strength (including some heavily symbolic dream sequences) he demands to lead the team back into Russia for vengeance.
The players include a squirrelly CIA liaison played Jaime Bell who clearly knows more than he is letting on, Jodie Turner-Smith as Kelly's steely and badass commanding officer, and Guy Pearce as a Secretary of Defense caught between whatever nefarious seeds the CIA is planting and the military's desire to take action. Also there's Kelly's fellow armed comrades, a bunch of replaceable grunts with codenames filmed in dingy, grimy set pieces that you can barely see, so there's not much to say about them.
En route to Russia the team takes a requisitioned commercial jet, but somehow they get found (who squealed?!?!) and shot down. This should be a dynamic action sequence, but it's mostly Michael B. Jordan shouting "I gotta get the gear!" and then getting the gear. Then the movie shifts into Call of Duty mode and there's a lot of shooting and killing in dimly lit corridors. It's shockingly dull.
What's weird is how 1993 this whole movie feels. Once the twist is revealed I suspect most people will shrug. We've seen it before. But beyond that, there are annoying little details that do not make sense. Allow me to dwell on something from early on that ticked me off.
We're in the montage of Navy SEALs getting bumped off in their homes. It's late at night, and John Kelly is laying back on his couch, listening to music on his headphones. His wife is asleep upstairs, and the assassins outside cut the power. This alerts Kelly, because the music shuts off. I am taking an educated guess here that in the book he is listening to a record player that spins down. But here, Kelly's headphones are plugged into a laptop that is running something that looks like Spotify. When the power goes out, the laptop, which is plugged in, goes out, too. This would not happen. The laptop would at least have 1 percent battery (if not more), since we see it plugged in. Killing the outside power would not shut off the computer and stop the music!
I know it is silly to harp on this, but I must confess that it irked me for the remainder of the film. If the movie had more energy — better action, some funny dialogue, intriguing characters — I would have dropped it. But since it was such a bore, all I did was grow angrier about this obvious mistake in what is supposed to be a techno-thriller.
Michael B. Jordan deserves better, and so do you. This movie stinks.
TV Guide rating: 1/5
Without Remorse premieres Friday, April 30 on Amazon Prime Video.