The year is 2036. Off the Wire opens with a very serious scene of soldiers with combat robots (called gumps) in their trailer, on their way to a combat zone in Europe. They immediately came under heavy enemy fire. Our hero Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) conducts a drone attack on the area, killing two friendly soldiers, but saving 38 others. Hofstrom plays on his lack of emotion by insisting on his decision making as he closes in on his goal, forcing him to squeeze sticky bears. (A rather odd and specific choice in the void, but we also discover later that Harp’s wife calls him Sticky Bear as a pet name. Is this how he thinks of his wife during the strike? It’s pretty painful, isn’t it? Did his shared love of marshmallow bears prompt his wife to give him that name? Or is it just a coincidence? Did Haribo sponsor the movie? I have too many questions about this odd detail, but I’ll spare you unnecessary speculation).
Harp was quickly reprimanded for his decision and transferred to the field office. His superiors saw it as an opportunity to relearn the human element of war and get out from behind the broomstick. In camp, he teams up with Leo (Anthony Mackie), a super-soldier humanoid robot who acts like a Marine in the pit and is tasked with defeating the enemy as a one-man army. Thankfully, Outside the Wire spares us the details of how the film came to be; just know that it’s much stronger than the average person making it.
Harp and Lev are tasked with finding notorious war criminal Viktor Koval (Pilu Asbek) and preventing him from using Cold War nuclear bombs in Russia. And to do that, they have to work their way through many vague Eastern European fighters.
When Harp and Leo enter a war zone, Outside the Wire becomes more of a buddy-buddy movie (soldier buddy movie?), with the protagonists fighting each other as they cross the rubble and hunt down Koval. The human-cyborg duo isn’t exactly original, but in theory Damson Idris and Anthony Mackie could make a good duo. Idris was largely unknown to me before this film (many probably know him from the TV series Snowfall), but he appeared on screen as an interesting character. Fiery and powerful, he even manages to present himself with maximum dignity while delivering the most terrifying dialogue in the film. The resemblance to his co-star is not hard to see.
McKee, who we’ve seen in several roles so far, has a certain toughness to his performances that he mixes with the occasional wink to let us know we can still have fun. Here he just yells at Idris’ harp in his usual militaristic tone, and ends each response by calling it a villain or a child. In many cases, the character of the android is in trouble; the balance between humanity and technology is delicate. This is an aggressive level of dominant machismo woven into the dialogue. Leo Mackie becomes less of a character and more of a flashy cliché.
The script (written by Rob Yescombe and Rowan Atale) does Idris a great service. After the prologue, the harp is reduced to an audience substitute in the vast majority of the first and second songs. His character has little agency, and he almost never does anything useful for the mission. He’s really just there to accompany Leo, for increasingly crazy and confusing reasons.
However, the action takes place in places where the film wrings a lot. For a film that promotes peace, Outside the Wire really likes a good shot. And believe me, I want it! But context is key, and the themes of the film and the bloody violence don’t go together at all. The problem is compounded by the images of the respective strangers: You’re either a bloodthirsty monster or a helpless victim. Even when the characters preach that the US has an interest in fighting (or even withdrawing completely), the plot only expresses American exceptionalism.
The choreography itself is largely passable, although a few extra dollars would have helped. Håfströöm uses a few remarkable tricks to facilitate the effects, such as shaking the digital camera while shooting, a quick snap or an extra layer of soot to darken the surroundings. The unintended consequences are a few action scenes that are a bit disjointed or just too grey to be interesting. After a while, the deposits begin to mix.
Are there any twists?
The third act of The Wire becomes increasingly implausible by the second. One discovery contradicts the last, everything around Leo’s mind gets more and more confused, and the whole movie starts to come together. Start the countdown to the end of the world, and it’s over.
It’s certainly not the worst Netflix action movie (that honor goes to Last Days of American Crime), but I left wanting more fun. Netflix has a lot of original self-published action movies, and most of them are like a chore to be completed. Outside the Wire can learn from the combination of bloody action and old guard play.
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