Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Outside the Wire” (2021)

In the year 2036, a devastating war has broken out in Eastern Europe and during a particularly nasty battle, young drone pilot Harp (Damson Idris) disobeys an order and launches a projectile at a hostile enemy vehicle, saving thirty eight lives but killing two ally soldiers in the process, and as a consequence of his actions, Harp is reassigned and sent to report to army captain Leo (Anthony Mackie), who Harp soon learns is a prototype android; together, the two of them work to prevent the vicious warlord Victor Koval (Pilau Asbæk) from obtaining secret launch codes that will lead to global annihilation but Harp soon realises that there’s more to the mission, and to Leo, than meets the eye . . .

Another film that a few of us watched as part of Friday Fake Cinema Club, Outside the Wire is surely the first bona fide 2021 release that we’ve had here in the UK: a science fiction/war film from Netflix which uses the star power of Anthony Mackie as one of its main draws and one which promises some exciting action and a futuristic feel, perhaps in the same vein as other popular Netflix action originals from yesteryear such as Extraction and The Old Guard. In the end though, Outside the Wire ends up as a so-so endeavour because, although the plot had potential and the leading actors and special effects are all decent, the film doesn’t do enough to make it stand out from the crowd as long stretches are uninteresting and it has a muddled message.

In addition to providing audiences with high octane action and all of that exciting war/sci-fi, shoot-em-up entertainment, Outside the Wire aims to have a message contained within its plot and here, it tries to say something about (modern) warfare, ethics, humanity, and the cruel calculus of war but, try as it might, these themes are not exactly seamlessly integrated into the narrative and attempts at making the film thoughtful and deep often come across as a little heavy handed and preachy; by the end, I was honestly confused as to what lesson we were supposed to be learning and I can’t help but feel as though the film would’ve been better if most, if not all, of these “lessons” were done away with, with the film focusing more on the action setpieces and the craziness of the subject matter, perhaps leaning more into the sci-fi element because, as it stands, the fact that one of the main characters is an android with advanced capabilities often appears superfluous and in this regard, we’re not given enough bang for our buck. Outside the Wire definitely doesn’t have the worst script in the world, not as bad as many other Netflix originals, but it’s also not particularly innovative or coherent either.

In the action stakes, the film more or less delivers as there’s certainly plenty of fighting and shooting that will give audiences their fair share of Friday night entertainment but the execution and editing of these sequences are also flawed because many of them quickly wear out their welcome and at the worst of times, we simply witness robots standing still, exchanging gunfire with each other and scenes like this become repetitive and it’s clear that some tweaks to the editing and direction would’ve been beneficial, making the feature slicker and more quickly paced. The more hand-to-hand based fight sequences fare a little better as it’s entertaining enough to see the Mackie machine beat up bad guys using increased speed and strength but these scenes are nothing that we haven’t seen before and though they aren’t bad, they’re also nothing new.

Performance wise, Anthony Mackie (his character erroneously being referred to as a “war machine” even though he’s clearly Falcon!) is as good as he’s ever been and here, he has enough charisma and energy to carry the feature, initially appearing as a confident and trustworthy fellow soldier and then appearing far more unpredictable and threatening when he goes all Broken Arrow on everyone; ultimately, he’s a solid action lead as he handles all the shooting, fighting, and all the physical business very well. Alongside, Damson Idris is alright as the naive and uncertain soldier thrown into the deep end and he gets stuck into all the action like a trooper, going toe to toe with Mackie, but he lacks a natural spark and is ultimately a tad wooden, Pilau Asbæk is menacing as the villain of the piece, although he isn’t in it for very long at all, Michael Kelly takes on a role that he could do in his sleep, playing the commanding officer decently enough, and Emily Beecham infuses her resistance leader character with plenty of mystery, strength and confidence, playing one of the film’s TWO female characters.

Outside the Wire may have begun with an intriguing premise but, despite some good action sequences and interesting plot turns, its muddled and uninspiring story proves detrimental and the feature doesn’t bring anything new to either the sci-fi or war film genres.

★ ★

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