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We Watched it So You Don’t Have To: Terminal

A movie that takes the notion of style over substance to a whole new level

Margot Robbie in a scene of Terminal.

Much like people, the films that are nearly always the coolest are those that are not desperately trying to be perceived on such terms. When a movie is striving to be slick and suave it can so often appear clumsy and contrived. Vaughn Stein’s Terminal is one such movie, that takes the notion of style over substance to a whole new level. An ode to the film noir genre, this neon-lit, nondescript landscape is home to a whole myriad of shady characters, each with an inclination to step over anyone if it means garnering a semblance of personal gain. Margot Robbie plays Annie at the very heart of proceedings, a sort of Jessica Rabbit type character, keeping all of the men that orbit nearby, linking each dark and mysterious character to the next.

Simon Pegg and Margot Robbie in a scene from Terminal.

The film thinks it’s being smart. The attempt at dry witty humour falls short every time its attempted, and the dialogue, which purports to be sharp and intelligent, feels anything but. It’s going for that distinctive Tarantino-approach, but its pretension and self-awareness is suffocating to the viewer. It’s vying, quite unashamedly, for that same Ritchie/Tarantino brand of conversation, the droll Lock Stock screenplay springs to mind, and the cast even boasts two of the film’s leading men in Nick Moran and Dexter Fletcher. But this is more like a fever dream, the sort that wakes you up at night in a cold sweat, worried you’ll never be able to get back to sleep again.

Simon Pegg in a scene of the movie.

You can imagine the producers pitching this as a Lock Stock meets Sin City affair, but again it hasn’t got the same pacing and tonality of the latter, albeit quite similar in its striking aesthetic. There are so many ways this film can de described. Yes, it’s sort of a pastiche, a love-letter to graphic novels, yes it’s even somewhat hardboiled, and I suppose you could describe it as a neo-noir if you were struggling to find a box to put this title in. But it isn’t anything of those things naturally, it’s an artificial movie that has so little grace nor flair. It wants so desperately to be so many things, and so many other movies, it instead becomes none of them.

Margot Robbie is Annie in Terminal.

Then there’s the clunky, convoluted and simply problematic narrative, with unoriginal twists and turns you can see a mile off. It’s hard to understand quite what attracted Robbie and Simon Pegg into this film. And – quite incredibly – even the return of Mike Myers, who picks his projects so carefully. Or at least he used to. Their performances aren’t bad either, and in Robbie’s defence she impresses, with a role that bears a similarly unhinged demeanour we saw her perfect in the role of Harley Quinn. There is no obligation for films to be intelligent, nor for them to be cool. But when a film is trying so, so hard to excel in both of those areas it puts itself right in the firing line, and if it fails to achieve what it sets out to, it will fall, and it will do so spectacularly.

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