Think of your heart as the drums, your breathing as the bass. That’s pretty much my only takeaway of note from The Rhythm Section and I’m still not sure how it works. Then again, I’m no musician. Or assassin.

The film, based on the popular novel by Mark Burnell, stars Blake Lively as Stephanie Patrick, a broken young woman bent on revenge and craving redemption after she learns that a plane crash that killed her entire family was no accident. I’ve heard the book was quite good. Unfortunately, the movie is not. The ‘rhythm’ is off on everything – from the plot, to the editing, to the music and the casting.

Inconsistent British accent aside, Lively (A Simple Favor, Gossip Girl, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) simply lacks believability as someone who slides into a life of drugs and prostitution and then assumes the identity of a femme-fatale assassin under the tutelage of a disgraced MI-6 agent (Jude Law).

The Rhythm Section starts off okay. It’s easy enough to get the gist: Stephanie loved her parents, brother and sister. They died on a flight that she was supposed to be on too.  She sinks into a sea of survivor’s guilt and flounders for three years. Then a freelance reporter (Raza Jaffrie) tells her the crash was orchestrated by a bunch of bad guys who are still plotting bad things. Stephanie embarks on a mission to track them down and you know, eliminate them. Along the way, she learns how to fight and shoot and control her heart rate and breathing (“the rhythm section”), and she enlists the services of an information broker and former spy played by a miscast Sterling K. Brown (Waves, This Is Us). From then on, it gets complicated. And convoluted. We’re inclined to root for Stephanie, but that’s about it.

Director Reed Morano (TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale) opts for a series of tight shots designed to keep us in tune with Stephanie’s point of view. But it doesn’t quite work. The pacing is brutally slow for a Jason Bourne-wannabe action thriller with a practical running time of 105 minutes. I found myself comparing The Rhythm Section to the 2018 Jennifer Garner revenge dud Peppermint more than any Jason Bourne flick. And I give Peppermint the slight edge over Rhythm Section mostly because Garner was a stronger presence than Lively as a devastated, determined woman with nothing left to lose.

There are more books in the Stephanie Patrick series by Mark Burnell (who also wrote The Rhythm Section screenplay). But I wouldn’t count on an encore anytime soon.


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