Clearly, ‘darling-of-the-moment’ director Ben Wheatley and producer/writer wife Amy Jump were having a bit of fun when they concocted the action-comedy film FREE RIDE. Too bad that this reviewer fails to laugh with them… Despite the undisputable talents of its stars Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Noah Taylor, this ‘arms deal gone wrong’ tale kicks off with the climax and holds the attention for about half an hour or so. After that, everything just goes in circles and one begins to wonder whether anything more exciting than a seemingly never-ending hail of bullets might be added to the plot. It does not!

FREE FIRE is Wheatley’s nod to 70’s action flicks – you know, the hair dos, the loud shirts, the oversized collars, the music and the slang to go with it (though I doubt that the F-word has been used as freely in the 70’s as it’s used here). Thing is that other directors like Tarantino have also paid homage to the exploitation and pulp genre of the 70’s with the considerable difference that a Tarantino film – no matter how violent and stark bonkers – usually comes with a solid plot (sub-plots even) whereas the ‘plot’ here is a paper-thin excuse for a non-stop frenzied shoot-out in a Boston warehouse (filmed in the Brighton area).
Enter two questionable characters called Steve (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) on their way to a secluded warehouse where they meet Northern Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) – two devoted IRA members. They have come to buy a serious amount of weapons from notorious arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his cronies. Also on board are sassy intermediary Justine (Brie Larson) and one of Vernon’s representatives called Ord (Armie ‘The Lone Ranger’ Hammer). After some awkward small talk the two groups finally enter the warehouse where the deal, despite Vernon accidentally supplying the wrong weapons, seems to come together ok and with Chris and Co. handing over the stash of money in a briefcase.

So far, so good! But things suddenly turn sour courtesy of an unrelated incident involving macho Stevo who physically abused a young woman the previous day. Unfortunately the woman in question happened to be a cousin of Harry (Jack Reynor), who came to her aid and gave loudmouth Stevo a well-deserved kicking. And now Harry (one of Vernon’s cronies), who has a penchant for cheesy John Denver music, recognizes Stevo and things flare up again in an instant… so much in fact that the former shoots the latter in the shoulder and by doing so causing the two groups to split and start shooting at each other relentlessly (pretty much for the remainder of the film). With everyone wounded (or dead) and the briefcase lying in the middle of the huge warehouse room, the race is on for survival and also for grabbing the precious booty! Suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, two hit-men enter and begin to shoot at the trapped men. Ord recognizes one of the hit-men as Howie (Patrick Bergin) who has been hired to eliminate everyone and take the money and run. When Ord, who still seems to think that somehow he will make it out alive, tries to press Howie into revealing as to who sent him he is shot dead and Ord is left none the wiser. The rest is really about survival of the fittest, which is a tough one seeing how at that stage pretty much all of those still alive are badly wounded and riddled with bullets… So well, there is one survivor but no happy ending and I won’t give the name away.

Considering how excellent Wheatley’s previous works including HIGH RISE and KILL LIST are (though of course this is a matter of personal opinion), FREE FIRE comes across as somewhat of an anti-climax due to its overtly simplistic plot and endless repetition as far as the action is concerned – in this case a lot of shooting and killing and not much else. Speaking of: the entire action takes place inside a warehouse which makes it even more limiting. Armie Hammer is as flat as ever while the talents of Cillian Murphy et al are clearly wasted – after fifty rounds of bullets he’d probably wished to be back on a Peaky Blinders set. Sharlto Copley is a revelation as over-the-top psychotic arms dealer Vernon and Brie Larson, excellent in the acclaimed ROOM, doesn’t have much else to do than deliver cool one-liners and crawling along blood-smeared floors trying to outsmart the rest of the gang.