Kandahar Takes Viewers On a Bland Journey

Gerard Butler attempts to go serious, never a good idea.

Generally speaking, Gerard Butler goes down best with a heaping helping of cheese. That’s why, for instance, the self-serious Last Seen Alive never had a chance of working, while his winking send-up of a magnetic bad guy in Copshop proved one of his most enjoyable efforts in years. His biggest hit, 300, may put on the cloak (unbuttoned to keep those abs on display) of historical drama.

Still, in reality, it is a testosterone-injected cheese curd aimed directly at the audience’s taste buds. It doesn’t mean the cheese always works—see the cheddar-drenched and still quite terrible Phantom of the Opera adaptation, for instance—but if you are playing the percentages, it remains your best bet.

This is all preamble to saying Kandahar is fully lactose-free, and it shows. And at a full two hours, it spends tremendous amounts of its running time proving my thesis.

Plodding Plotting

Tom Harris (Butler) is a superspy of the variety that likely mirrors reality far more than the suave James Bond or programmed-to-kill Jason Bourne. He’s middle-aged, probably five years or more off his physical peak, and more than a little done with it all. While he’s in Afghanistan undermining the Taliban, his soon-to-be ex-wife Corrine (Rebecca Calder) is growing increasingly annoyed, and his daughter Ida (Olivia-Mai Barrett) ever more distant.

Despite his exhaustion and family troubles—or perhaps because of the latter—Harris extends his stay in the Middle East to take on one more mission from his handler (Travis Fimmel, if not the best performance of the film, certainly the most eye-catching). The mission is pitched as easy with a big payout, so audiences of any savvy will immediately recognize it as a disaster in waiting. Along for the ride is Mo (Navid Negahban), an aging translator who seems to be dodging his own traumas through work as well.

As expected, things go wrong. Harris’s identity gets burnt, so he and Mo have to make a run for an airstrip in the titular city or die trying.

A Collaboration Gone Awry

Butler is reteaming with director Ric Roman Waugh for a third go-round. Previously, they worked together on the better than it had any right to be Greenland and the “Well, some people love the series” Angel Has Fallen. Regardless of this critic’s feelings about the Has Fallen series, it is clear that Waugh did know how to showcase his star best. He gets the Cheese Principle if you will.

Unfortunately, Kandahar has short-circuited their vibing. Waugh can still direct an action scene that makes Butler read as a credible physical threat, but they’re so few and far between here. The longest action setpiece—or perhaps it just feels like it—is Butler, Fimmel, and Negahban fleeing a Taliban super merc Kahil (a very cool Ali Fazal) through the desert.

The camera captures the relatively small stretch of land between the trio and freedom in a way that highlights how terrifyingly long it feels to them. Unfortunately, however, the chase also feels unpleasantlessly endless. For all the vehicles wrecked, bullets fired, and blood lost, it’s an almost adrenaline-free affair. By the time Butler steps out from behind the wheel to go head-to-head with Fazal, the actors feel as over the moment as the viewers.

The Fault, Dear Viewers, Is In Our Words

The script, from newcomer Mitchell LaFortune, may be the root cause of Kandahar’s defects. It’s constructed like a more thoughtful action film that perhaps contemplated the collateral damage of international spy games. Then, at some point, someone carved out the ambiguity and ambivalence but didn’t replace it with much compelling.

As a result, the actors often feel stranded in the plot with little of interest to say. For example, the movie frequently refers, directly or indirectly, to the Taliban’s treatment of women. But then, that’s all there is to it. Mentions. There’s no outrage, no attempt to reckon with it. In fact, women are almost wholly absent from Kandahar beyond Harris’s brief phone calls to home. It’s such an obvious empty space. It seems impossible to imagine there wasn’t once something either a bit thornier or more adrenaline-soaked in its place.

The dialogue, similarly, seems stripped of anything beyond what’s needed to move people from scene to scene. It’s lacking even in gritted teeth “this is what men do” machismo or “I won’t let your daughter never see her dad again,” agreeable emotional manipulation. It is achingly functional, nothing more.

Don’t Accept This Mission

More snooze than anything else, Kandahar is a swing at a serious actioner that lacks both message and motivation. If you want to see Butler in a film that contemplates the wages of violence, the aforementioned Copshop does it smarter and funnier while letting Butler’s charisma shine through. If you want to see Butler kiss ass to get back to his family, this year’s Plane fits the bill so much better. I can think of no good reason to take this trip abroad.

Kandahar grimaces at audiences starting May 26 in theatres.

Rating: 4.5/10 SPECS.

We've got the latest on all the movies in theaters now.

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Tim Steven is a sad tomato, Tim Stevens is three miles of bad road. He’s also a therapist, staff writer and social media manager for The Spool, and a freelance writer with publications like ComicsVerse, Marvel.com, CC Magazine, and The New Paris Press. His work has been quoted in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and MSN Ireland. Feel free to find him @UnGajje on Twitter or in a realm of pure imagination.