by Hope Madden
Femme fatales. Hitmen. Disjointed timelines. Neon.
Sin City was interesting in 2005.
Vaughn Stein’s debut as a feature film writer/director, after many years assisting, borrows heavily from the Tarantino explosion of the Nineties and early 2000s. He drops us into a metropolitan underworld where danger intersects with madness and borrowed style tries desperately to draw attention away from lack of substance.
He does have Margot Robbie, though, so that’s a start. Robbie plays the aforementioned femme fatale in a hulking underbelly of a soundstage meant to look like a cross between a wee-hours train terminal, an insane asylum and Wonderland—all with that vacant, neon emptiness of a neo-noir.
Robbie’s Annie is a hitman masquerading as a waitress in the terminals all-night diner. There’s a hidden mastermind, a mysterious cripple, a couple of contract killers and a teacher who needs a little nudge before he’s ready to off himself.
Vaughn immediately brings Sin City to mind with his splashy comic book noirisms. It’s hard for that to feel fresh at this stage in filmdom, and his tired hodge-podging of hyper-dramatic tropes doesn’t breathe any new life into the story.
In fact, the story is the problem. It’s an awful lot of nothing, truth be told, with nary a surprise and loads of letdowns.
There is a bit in the diner that’s worth a watch. An excellent Simon Pegg waits for a train and chit chats with a borderline insane waitress (Robbie). Their chemistry is odd and welcome, and Pegg’s delivery is particularly impeccable. In these scenes, Vaughn’s writing suddenly feels engaging and unpredictable.
The core story about two killers Annie is playing against each other peters out blandly, and though the answer to any other surprise has long ago been telegraphed in, still we sit through an intolerable backstory.
Robbie does what she can, though she leans a bit too heavily on her Harley Quinn character to sell Annie’s mental state. She’s mad as a hatter, you see. We know that because she told us so in an opening voiceover narration.