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I’ll admit, when I learned that the robot soldiers in the future world depicted in Outside the Wire were called Gumps, I dearly wanted one of them to intone: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Alas, these Gumps don’t talk. But that’s OK; the human characters do enough chatting to make up for their silence. Outside the Wire features two writers, Rowan Athale and video-game scripter Rob Yescombe, but the movie might have been better with half the authors and 50% less dialogue.
This is a film where people repeat things like: “You just disobeyed a direct order!” Or: “If Koval finds the nukes, it’s the end of the world as we know it!” Or my favourite, when one character says they’re leaving at dawn. “Dawn?” says another, looking at his watch. “But that’s – now!”
British actor Damson Idris plays the watch-checking Lieutenant Thomas Harp, a drone pilot who in the opening scene disobeys a direct order (wouldn’t you know?) and fires a missile that takes out an enemy rocket launcher but also kills two U.S. soldiers.
Nearly court-martialed, he is instead sent to the war zone in question and paired with Leo (Anthony Mackie, Avenger’s Falcon), a tough-talking army captain who’s trying to track down some nuclear weapons and the launch codes before they fall into the hands of warlord Viktor Koval. And if Koval finds the nukes, it’s the end of the world as we know it.
The movie was directed by Sweden’s Mikael Håfström, whose English-language credits include the 2013 Schwarzenegger/Stallone thriller Escape Plan . The year is 2036, which is just far enough out to suggest that androids might be a possibility, but not so far that you need to worry about any other period design – clothing, cars, guns and machismo are still pretty much what they were in 2020.
We also get that thing where Hungary stands in for a fictional Eastern European locale, this one called Krasny, which no doubt sounds convincingly foreign to American ears. We even see it on a map, wedged between Ukraine and Russia. No wonder people are fighting over it – it wasn’t even there 15 years earlier!
It’s all very generic, from the Krasnian baddie played by Pikou Asbaek to the cynical aid worker (Emily Beecham) and the commanding officer with a grudge (Michael Kelly). And there are plenty of combat scenes involving Mackie, whose character has some mad fighting skills.
There’s also a little bit of philosophy thrown into the mix; some interesting notions about the role played by autonomous fighting machines in current and future warfare, and of what a truly intelligent A.I. might decide to do about it. But it’s too little and far too late in the movie’s two-hour runtime to make getting there worthwhile. Stupid is as stupid does. And Outside the Wire does a lot of stupid.
Outside the Wire is available Jan. 15 on Netflix.
1.5 stars out of 5
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021