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Review: Blake Lively's 'The Rhythm Section' hits sour notes

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures 


Blake Lively is front and center in “The Rhythm Section”  directed by Reed Morano (“The Handmaid's Tale”) and adapted by Mark Burnell who also wrote the book on which the film is based. The non-fiction series is immensely popular and I’m sure the hope for Paramount here is to start a franchise, but Morano’s earnest attempt at turning Lively into a formidable action heroine falls flat and “The Rhythm Section” barley has a pulse. 

The narrative is not one to be taken lightly, since it concerns a drug-addicted British prostitute, Stephanie Patrick (Lively) who finds herself in an assassin training program to avenge the deaths of her entire family in a plane crash orchestrated by terrorists. Morano depicts the material with the somber and depressing overtones one should expect, yet “The Rhythm Section” allows little characterization and minor connections with the loved ones who perished. Aside from a flashback sequence over the opening credits, we hardly get a good look at the family. 

This isn’t a light film and I don’t think anyone was asking it change up its entire dynamic, but there's a painful lack of coherence as the film trots along to different continents and introduces side characters (Sterling K Brown shows up midway through the film, as an ally for the good guys, and he looks lost). Morano also leans a bit too heavily into the soundtrack peppered with hits like “I’m Sorry” and “It’s Now or Never” to no avail. 

Stephanie has obviously been ruined by the tragedy and decides to take matters into her own hands. After a botched assassination attempt to kill those responsible for her torment, Stephanie finds an unlikely ally with former MI6 agent, Ian Boyd (Jude Law), now living in the remote countryside, who agrees to teach her combat. This is where the films title comes into play as Boyd - in a “Karate Kid, moment - teaches a valuable lesson on how our hearts are like a drum and the beating is the bass, and that’s the focus needed to kill someone. After months of this vigorous training - including the films best staged combat sequence with Law and Lively facing off in a condensed kitchen - Stephanie sets out on her mission. 

As mentioned, the screenplay was helmed by the book’s author who seems to have pieced this together backwards. If you can keep up with all the different locations, try understanding all the wigs and costume changes that Lively ushered in throughout the slow 109 minutes. Viewers will likely struggle to comprehend where we are and what exactly is happening that by the time we reach the climactic finale, you could blink and miss it. 

Give credit to Lively who tries to find convincing elements of her character, adopts a believable British accent, and almost manages to give the picture some form of credibility. Over the years, she’s found pictures that suit her skills (I was a fan of “The Shallows” and enjoyed her in “A Simple Favor”). The actress seems equipped to handle any obstacle thrown her way and its commendable. In the case of “The Rhythm Section,” she unfortunately doesn’t have a strong composer to help her land all the right notes. 

Grade: D+

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