Rob Cordry: Action Hero. Yeah, that doesn’t sound quite right to me either. To be fair, Cordry isn’t really the hero of Operation Endgame, but he does have a couple of stunt-filled sequences and a scene where he has to realistically threaten someone’s life with a sharp object. Actionfest somehow got a hold of an unfinished digital copy of this action comedy that is supposed to be released later this year (although Amazon lists it as being available on DVD in July), and at least in that unfinished state, the film doesn’t quite work.
The premise is promising–there are two competing branches of a secretive government agency that carries out black ops around the world to keep the planet from blowing itself up. The groups codenamed Alpha and Omega are comprised of quirky specialists in espionage, assassination, weapons, and communications. Ellen Barkin leads the Alpha team comprised of overzealous conservatives, while some guy who hardly factors into the story leads the Omega team of misfits. The action kicks off during President Obama’s inauguration and it follows the newest recruit, codenamed “The Fool” as he learns the ropes on his first day at a new job where things start going terribly wrong. All of that, even the stunt casting, has potential.
And I was with the movie to a point–willing to accept the lack of finished effects, the strange cast, and the clumsy premise–like I said, there’s some promise in the idea. Somehow it just didn’t click. I don’t want to blame it all on silence, but that seemed to be a big part of the problem. Most of the film’s comedy comes from Cordry being a drunk asshole or from people taking shots at each other, but almost none of those scenes had any music. The result: a lot of mean-spirited jabs that didn’t sound funny as much as hateful without some music to clue the audience in to the intended tone. Since it’s a film that treads the line between action and comedy, the balance between laughs and kills is important. There are some pretty great, funny moments to be sure, but there are far more moments that felt uncomfortably unfunny. The trouble with this version might have been that there’s nothing to distinguish when the movie should be taken seriously and when it should be broad comedy.
It’s all a farce really, but if that’s the case, it needs some serious work. The Square, another film playing at Actionfest, is a complex thriller with several intertwining threads and deceptions and at least as many characters and I had absolutely no problem following that film’s plot. Operation Endgame which seems considerably simpler on the surface feels lost. Who in the film are we supposed to identify with or even like? Who’s on which side, and what is motivating the folks who are pulling the strings? I think I know, maybe, but it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. The film is full of potentially interesting characters, but it never follows any of them consistently. I thought we‘d be following and rooting for “The Fool“ throughout the story, but in many ways he‘s just a tool to get the plot started. The story might be told from the point of view of the two bureaucrats who monitor the operations from a distant control center, but if that‘s the case, it seems like a strange and distant choice.
Zach Galifianakis has a small part as the enigmatic agent that we don’t see until two thirds of the way through the movie, but his role in the plot and his allegiances are completely unclear. He does a fine job with what little he’s given, but he’s mostly wasted in a film that could have used more character and less enigma. Emile de Ravin (of TV’s Beastmaster fame) dons an atrocious southern accent and plays crazy a lot. When the whole thing resolved, I was scratching my head. Why did any of it happen, who were the good guys, and should I be happy or sad for the people who won and lost? These aren’t the kinds of questions I want to be asking at the end of a politically-themed action comedy.
I don’t know what will save the movie. The finished effects shots will probably make it look a lot more like Get Smart or Men in Black which is fine–I think the filmmakers are trying to riff on those types of films. The music will definitely help to sell the comedy where it currently feels flat and the action when it needs to be amped up (although the action scenes were universally good.) But it still feels like the film needs some serious edits for it to really come together. There are too many jokes that misfire and too many questions about why the story is even taking place that need to be answered earlier in the film.
Operation Endgame is a political thriller with a chip on its shoulder. It creates a world of mostly unbelievable but entertaining super spies who have to fight each other with little more than office supplies. While that makes for some fun scenes, the story just doesn’t really make sense yet. I’ll be interested to see the finished film, as I think this version was just not quite ready for prime time. It appears to be going straight to video, so I’m doubtful that much more was done to save it.