Atomic Blonde deserves to bomb at box office

Charlize Theron and James McAvoy star in Atomic Blonde, director David Leitch's 1980s-set Cold War spy actioner. David Roy attempted to stay awake for the one good bit...

Charlize Theron as 1980s spy Lorraine Broughton in Atomic Blonde's bravura fight sequence

FILM REVIEW: ATOMIC BLONDE (15, 115 mins) Action/Thriller/Romance. Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, Eddie Marsan, Toby Jones, John Goodman, Johannes Johannesson, Sam Hargrave. Director: David Leitch

Rating: Two stars

IF THERE'S one thing that's even worse than a film that's terrible from start to finish, it's a terrible film featuring one sequence so jarringly good that it makes the rest of it look twice as bad by comparison.

Atomic Blonde from John Wick co-director David Leitch is a case in point: about three-quarters of the way into this mind-numbingly convoluted, unfathomably badly constructed, style-over-substance, 'nice 1980s soundtrack, shame about the script' spy actioner that's set right at the fag-end of the Cold War, Leitch suddenly shakes his audience from near-slumber by throwing an extended bit of bravura film-making at them which seems to arrive from out of nowhere.

Until this point, Charlize Theron's titular 'atomic blonde' has been shooting up and smacking down her Berlin-based foes in bog standard action flick manner, effortlessly winning those familiar three-or more-on-one fights where each thug considerately waits their turn to take a pop at her.

The painfully obvious fight choreography kind of defeats the purpose of Theron apparently filming them with minimal use of a double – often while sporting spike-heeled thighboots, no less – though it does at least add some unintentional comic value to proceedings as we watch various stunt goons attempting to work out how to occupy themselves until it's time to reach for their gun just a moment too late to avoid being violently dispatched.

To be frank, with Leitch being a former stuntman with about 20 years experience under his belt, we might have expected better: then again, John Wick's over-rated 'indestructible killer' antics offered much the same kind of thing.

However, then comes the aforementioned 10-minute-long sequence in which Theron's undercover British agent Lorraine Broughton must defend a wounded East German defector (played by a largely wasted Eddie Marsan) from a pair of tough knife and gun-wielding thugs.

Presented as one take (though in reality it's multiple takes cleverly stitched together), this stairwell-set action set-piece starts brutal and gradually escalates into a pure feral scramble for survival that is by far and away the best thing Atomic Blonde has to offer.

Sadly, 10 top quality minutes out of 115 is not really an acceptable hit ratio for any film, much less one which also squanders the talents of fine actors like Marsan, Toby Jones, John Goodman and James McAvoy.

The latter plays an undercover agent posing as a crazed smuggler in East Berlin who is supposed to be helping Broughton track down a stolen microfiche (that most 1980s of spy cliches) containing a full list of active secret agents operating in the divided German capital.

Apparently, if the Russians get their hands on this information it could be enough to extend the by now extremely lukewarm Cold War "by 30 or 40 years". Crivvens!

Naturally, Broughton's own cover is immediately blown, leading to car chases (there is a really good one immediately after that stand-out fight scene, oddly enough), umpteen fights and gun battles, the odd sex scene involving sultry French agent Delphine (Sofia Boutella) and lots and lots and lots of smoking.

Indeed, Theron's character is shown sucking seductively on so many gaspers throughout the film that it's a wonder she doesn't collapse in a wheezing heap mid-way through.

Shot in a visually assaultive manner reminiscent of the none-too-subtle music videos from the era in which it is set, Atomic Blonde attempts to overcome its terminal structural and storytelling problems by dint of flashy aesthetics and a pounding jukebox-esque soundtrack featuring everything from New Order and Ministry to Nena and Queen featuring David Bowie.

Unfortunately, the decision to frame the film's action in recurring flashback was a catastrophic error – and the suspicion lingers that these 'debriefing interview' scenes featuring Toby Jones and John Goodman were only added because someone decided Kurt Johnstad's screenplay made no sense without them.

A box office bomb of atomic proportions – look for that fight scene on YouTube though.

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