blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Bastille Day (2016, James Watkins)

Bastille Day is an abject waste of time from the start, which opens with some very bad “video stock” only it turns out to be supposed to be “bad” video from a smartphone. Not even getting into the opening sequence, a terribly directed one, seems more appropriate for an eighties Porky’s rip-off more than a pulse-pounding espionage thriller. Except Bastille isn’t even a pulse-pounding espionage thriller. It’s a buddy flick, only without any of that fun chemistry between the buddies.

Bastille’s buddies are top-billed Idris Elba, as an American CIA lifer who is more a blunt instrument (it doesn’t matter, director Watkins and co-writer Andrew Baldwin’s espionage details suggest they didn’t even bother checking Wikipedia), and Richard Madden, as an American ex-pat pickpocket in Paris. If Elba and Madden had okay American accents, it wouldn’t matter they’re not, except their accents are terrible. Occasionally the most amusing thing about Bastille is wondering what they must’ve sounded like between takes, when they aren’t retching out Watkins and Baldwin’s insipid dialogue with their very shaky accents. Elba seems more like he’s doing an impression of an American actor than giving a performance, which is a bummer because he comes in late enough to save the movie from Madden and then doesn’t.

Madden’s performance isn’t even serious enough to call a performance so no time on that aspect, sorry. Though it is also fun watching him strain to emote as you can watch him consider making that decision, then not doing it.

It’s impossible to say, of course, how much is director Watkins’s fault. Watkins is really, really bad at the directing. So maybe Elba and Madden would be great if they’d just had the petty cash buyer or graffiti artist take over directing. It certainly wouldn’t be any worse.

Though I do suppose neither Madden or Elba get anywhere near as bad as Kelly Reilly, who hopefully locked her agent in a metal box and dumped them in the ocean after this one. She’s atrocious. And paired with Anatol Yusef, who’s so bad as the Paris station chief (they don’t have station chiefs, the writers didn’t Google deep enough), I spent the movie wondering if he was the producer’s nephew or something. He’s not. He’s a professional actor. He does dramatic moves with his glasses professionally. It’s rough.

The story involves Madden getting involved in a terror attack—Bastille’s politics are dumb but also occasionally, unintentionally insightful—which leads to Antifa (or are they) getting involved with CGI-enhanced demonstrations before, you guessed it, Bastille Day. Elba is the super-agent saving the day without involving the French, namely bureaucrat José Garcia.

Throw in a damsel in distress (presumably native French speaker Charlotte Le Bon, who’s better at delivering her lines in English than Madden for sure) and a scary bad guy leader (Thierry Godard) and you’ve got a movie.

Though Bastille Day is a long ninety-two minutes. It gets even worse after the action sequences start and it turns out they did actually hire someone who can choreograph big guy Elba in fight scenes, Watkins just can’t direct them. At all. There are a couple potentially, actually good fight scenes and Watkins sinks them both. Though editor Jon Harris tries hard to mess them up too. Harris’s never any good at the cutting but during the action scenes he’s downright annoying.

Bastille Day is dumb and even if you’re sympathetic to the actors, it’s not like they haven’t given better performances elsewhere. A still photograph of Madden, for example, probably exhibits a lot more depth than anything in this movie. It’s a bad, dumb script, with some truly incompetent direction from Watkins.

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