Freelance teams John Cena and Alison Brie for an old-school action-comedy that doesn’t work as well as it should.
PLOT: A former special forces operative (John Cena) turned family man lawyer is tempted by an old friend to take a job as a bodyguard for a famous journalist (Alison Brie) who’s set to interview a dictator.
REVIEW: Pierre Morel will forever be celebrated as the director who turned Liam Neeson into an action star. His movie, Taken, remains (by a long shot) the best movie in that franchise. Now, Morel is dipping his toe into a different genre, the action-comedy. While Freelance has some well-conceived action sequences and a game cast, there’s a big problem – the movie isn’t funny.
Indeed, Cena can be hilarious, given the right material. He has a twinkle in his eye that makes him personable despite his hulking physique, with Blockers an excellent example of that. But he feels like the wrong fit for this. Given that the premise seems to promise fireworks between the leading man and woman, it’s telling that Freelance does away with any hint of romance between Cena’s bodyguard and Alison Brie’s journalist, by having him be married, with his marriage to Alice Eve’s character (in a thankless role) on the rocks.
Maybe the people involved didn’t think Cena’s fans wanted to see him in romance, but he’s turned into this chaste hero in the mould of Dwayne Johnson. The whole movie feels a bit like something Johnson might have done himself, although Cena allows himself to be more physically vulnerable than The Rock would have. But, it feels like a missed opportunity as these “opposites on the run” movies only really work if the characters have an underlying sexual tension. There’s none of that here, except a scene where Brie and Cena almost hook up that feels like it came out of nowhere.
Indeed, Cena is the one who feels miscast rather than Brie, with her easily capable of selling the Katherine Turner-style role as an uncompromising journalist on the run. She’s in terrific physical shape and handles the chase sequences very well. With a different leading man, sparks might have flown.
Instead, Cena plays most of the film with a bit of a hangdog expression, as he’s mourning the potential end of his marriage and resenting the fact that he winds up protecting the dictator Brie is interviewing. This dictator, played by Juan Pablo Raba, naturally turns out to be misunderstood, with him being attacked by mercenaries after he decides to become a more honest politician.
To Morel’s credit, there are a few nifty action sequences, particularly an ambush scene reminiscent of Clear and Present Danger. Cena also gives his hero a bad back, making him more vulnerable than expected, making his climactic fight with Marton Csokas’s mercenary baddie more evenly matched. Morel does an excellent job with the carnage, but the jokes fall flat one after another.
One of the worst things about the movie is the musical score, which is so jokey that it diffuses any of the tension the action sequences ramp up. It’s sitcom-level stuff, and big-name actors like Christian Slater and Alice Eve are also left with nothing to do, making me wonder why they were cast in the first place.
While Freelance isn’t awful, it feels like a waste of both Cena and Brie’s talents. Both are capable of much better than this and while they try hard, the movie just never really works.