The Numbers Station (Kasper Barfoed, 2013)
This could easily be a five-word review. (For those of you reading it at Popcorn: the subtitle was the initial review.) But, you know, Amazon requires at least twenty words, so I figure I might as well throw in a plot synopsis and at least one gratuitous reference to a couple of other thrillers this put me in mind of all too many times.
Emerson Kent (Fat Man and Little Boy‘s John Cusack) is a wet work guy for the American government. (For those of you not up on your spy thrillers or conspiracy theory: that means he kills people on governmental orders.) His boss, Grey (Safe House‘s Liam Cunningham), goes out with him on the mission that opens the movie (we find out the identity of the subject later; it is germane to what I assume was supposed to be Emerson Kent’s growth trajectory during the film, though that misfired pretty much constantly). It goes haywire when an innocent bystander enters the picture, resulting in a short, but ugly, trail of bodies. Kent begins to have doubts about his work, so the Agency gives him the equivalent of a desk job: babysitting the broadcaster at a numbers station, Katherine (Watchmen‘s Malin Akerman). Not long into the assignment, the two of them are driving to the station when they’re ambushed. After they’ve gotten inside and Kent calls for evacuation, he’s told to kill Katherine, as she’s been compromised. This, of course, puts him in exactly the same situation he was in before, except this time, the folks who were shooting at them are just on the other side of the door, and they’ve got power tools.
On the one hand, I realize I’m coming down extra-hard on this movie because someone finally got around to making a movie about numbers stations and it turns out to be as mediocre as, well, The Numbers Station. I was expecting way more from this movie than most people probably were, and I didn’t get it. And then there’s John Cusack playing a contract killer. Yeah, I didn’t like Grosse Pointe Blank, either. I try not to typecast people, honest I do, but Lloyd Dobler is walking around with a gun in his hand. What would Peter Gabriel think of this?
On the other hand, there is a lot of Charisma in this movie. Not the trait, the excellent Kiyoshi Kurosawa film from 1998 that plays with identities in crisis in exactly the same way this movie tries (and fails) to. If F. Scott Frazier, turning in his first screenplay, had paid a little more attention to Kurosawa, he might have gotten this way more right than he did. It’s as if he took the seeds of Charisma and crossed them with any number of other mediocre thrillers, though the one I’m most put in mind of—probably because I saw it mere weeks ago—is the Wesley Snipes vehicle Game of Death. The Numbers Station and Game of Death share a seeming desire to cater to the lowest common denominator, and that pretty much spells their doom at ever rising above the tired pack. Still, it’s another one of those “if you have nothing to do on Saturday night” movies. That said, if you have nothing better to do on Saturday night, do yourself a huge favor and rent Charisma instead. **