Friday, February 20, 2015

"Everly" Review: Salma Hayek Proves She Is A Force To Be Reckoned With In This Pulpish Action Extravaganza


What if you took the final act of the Luc Besson action classic Leon the Professional where Leon fought off the entire New York police department from his single room apartment, mixed it with some strong film noir underpinnings, a dash of Quentin Tarantino style pulp, copious amounts of blood and bullets, some Die Hard style claustrophobia, a pinch of Kill Bill's vengeance and then threw Latina goddess Salma Hayek into the middle of it all? Chances are you would end up with something like Everly, the latest action flick featuring a female in the usually male oriented action role. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats: 
Projector Type: N/A             
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 1 hr 32 min
Studio: Radius TWC
Release Date: February 27, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Female action heroes, film noir, pulpy action flicks
Likes: Salma Hayek
Neutral:  So much action leaves little time for character development
Hates: That this isn't getting the theatrical release it deserves
All movies need some: Hooker assassins to make them better.



Salma Hayek stars as Everly, a woman whom we first meet inside a seedy apartment building shortly after she has been brutally tortured and sexually assaulted by a group of unknown assailants. Disoriented and filled with rage she gets the upper hand and wipes them out, but that proves to only be just the beginning of her problems though as she soon finds herself the target of her former boss and yakuza kingpin Taiko who doesn't want her just dead, he wants her to suffer. Stuck inside the apartment complex, Everly must then fend off wave after wave of killer hookers, psychopaths and yakuza hitmen with little hope of surviving the night.

Why don't we have more action films starring a woman? It is mostly a foreign concept over here in America where the role of the action hero has long been associated with a male figure. It's not so much that there has never really been a female action hero but it is an extremely niche market. Sure there has been a number of iconic female characters from the expansive universe of Japanese animation (anime) and just about all Luc Besson films (La Femme Nikita, The Fifth Element, Leon the Professional) all of which have given us some of the most iconic action characters (female or not) of all time, but the genre has sadly been relegated to something of a curiosity than truly mainstream.


Last summer we saw the tide change slightly when the Scarlett Johansson action flick Lucy (also directed by Luc Besson) broke out and became a surprise hit (which has now sparked enough interest in the genre to get the live action adaptation for the legendary anime Ghost in the Shell greenlit with Johansson in the lead role to kick even more ass). To further perpetuate the argument towards female driven action films becoming more prominent we now have the relatively small scale Everly, which as it happens borrows liberally and is also greatly influenced in no small part by plenty of Eastern action filmmakers and most of the aforementioned Luc Besson's filmography.

The key term in that last sentence is borrow, which isn't to say it rips off or otherwise copies what others have done. Everly is a hybrid movie, a movie that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve while also introducing some new and exciting elements to the action genre. Director Joe Lynch, whose only other work I am acquainted with is the very underwhelming Knights of Badassdom, miraculously manages to craft a film whose disparate parts are at once familiar yet also extremely foreign but somehow melds it into something that feels completely original. He achieves this through a combination of many pulp film noir components and some brutal action sequences that would make action master John Woo proud.


Like any good noir style story Everly begins with our main character neck deep in s**t where the characters already have all the answers but the audience is in the dark as to the intentions or reasons behind anything happening. In hindsight the film actually plays out like an elongated third act to a film with the first two thirds cut out and all that is left is the bombastic finale. While some may find this distinct lack of information at the outset to be a negative, in practice it actually gives the film more substance that it wouldn't have had otherwise and gives the film its own identity and become more than just a bunch of shoot outs and blood splattered walls, it becomes art.

That's not to say it tries to be some sort of high class art, this is more gutter art that lavishes in its extreme violence. Everly walks that fine line between excessive and just enough when it comes to its blood soaked canvas. Much of the action is over the top and even a little bit cartoony at times (a grenade tossed into an elevator filled with Yakuza produces a ridiculous shower of the red stuff that comes shooting down the hall for instance). But to balance out the more absurd situations we get moments of real horror that will turn those gleefully bloodthirsty smiles into winces of pain such as when Everly is confronted a man simply known as the Sadist who shows us what true terror looks like.


But while the action is fun and the story full of intrigue is better than you might expect, the real ace up the sleeve here is Salma Hayek. While Hayek has been in many action films (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn), she has never been the one holding the gun(s) so to speak (let's try to forget the horrible Banditas). With Everly, her first real starring role in an action movie, she proves that she is not only capable of headlining an action flick but is a force to be reckoned with in the role.

From the moment she appears on screen she is all about kicking ass and there is never a moment where you don't believe this chick is capable of doing all the crazy ass s**t Lynch has her doing. But there is much more going on in Everly than just a chick with guns. A big reason why Hayek is so integral to the film working as well as it does is because she brings a much needed grounded reality to her absolutely absurd situation. She doesn't have a particular set of skills like Liam Neeson and she isn't biogenetically enhanced like Scarlett Johansson, nor is she some sort of all powerful being like Milla Jovovich, she survives through sheer determination at first and slowly becomes more skilled and lethal as the film progresses.

Filled with some imaginative balls to the walls action sequences, an army of hooker assassins, a surprisingly fun sense of humor about itself (just wait until you see how Everly plays with dogs, "Bonzai....BALL!") and a girl powered performance from star Salma Hayek who effortlessly reminds us that not all our action heroes have to be played by a man. Everly will easily please any action fans while introducing them to some interesting twists on the genre.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

 Salma Hayek leads with a deceivingly complex performance in a film that realistically won't rewrite the book on action films, but it certainly blows the door off the hinges for (hopefully) future films with female leads in the genre. The action is great, the humor is fun and most importantly Everly is every bit as good as all the films that inspired it and even better in some cases. Unless you don't like action (what's wrong with you?), there is little reason why you shouldn't seek out Everly immediately.

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