Freelance Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Pierre Morel
Stars: John Cena, Alison Brie, Juan Pablo Raba, Christian Slater, Marton Csokas, Alice Eve.
This disposable formulaic action comedy comes from French filmmaker Pierre Morel, best known for putting Liam Neeson through his paces in the thriller Taken in 2008.
Freelance stars former wrestler turned actor John Cena (Fast X, etc) as Mason Pettits, a former special forces operative who left the military after a mission in the fictitious South American country of Paldonia went sideways, leaving his team dead. An opening sequence shot from Mason’s point of view gives us his backstory. When we first meet him Mason in now married with a young daughter who idolises him and works as a lawyer, but he feels unsatisfied at how his life has turned out.
Then Mason is thrown a lifeline by his former colleague Sebastian Earle (Christian Slater) who runs a global private security firm. He hires Mason to act as bodyguard and provide personal protection to Claire Wellington (Alison Brie, from tv series Community, etc), a disgraced reporter who has a chance at redemption by gaining an exclusive interview with President Venegas (Spanish actor Juan Pablo Raba, from tv series Narcos, etc), the dictator of Paldonia.
But no sooner have Claire and Mason arrived in the country and met the charming Venegas than they are caught up in the middle of an attempted coup, orchestrated and financed by a couple of global corporations interested in getting their hands on the country’s vast reserves of rare earth minerals, which are vital for much of today’s technology. Leading an army of mercenaries is former South African army officer Colonel Jan Koehorst (New Zealand actor Marton Csokas), who wants to install Venegas’s venal younger cousin as president.
Mason finds himself conflicted and torn between his duty to protect Claire and his distrust of the charismatic Venegas, who he believes was responsible for killing his team in the earlier mission into the country. But there is more going on here than Mason can fathom. On the run through the jungle with Claire and Venegas in tow he is unsure of who he can trust.
Freelance is the first feature script written by former television writer Jacob Lentz, best known for writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live! His formulaic script serves up plenty of action and a few cheap one liners, and even works in a cursory examination of the turbulent politics of the region. With his work on Taken Morel has proven himself to be a dab hand at staging action and the film features two muscularly staged sequences – an attack on a bridge and the climactic shootout at the presidential palace.
Cena has a goofy charm, a self-deprecating and droll sense of humour, and finds plenty of opportunities here to break out his trademarked scowl, but as an action star he still lacks the clout of someone like Dwayne Johnson or even Schwarzenegger in his heyday. And unfortunately he and Brie lack any real chemistry as the bickering odd couple. Slater does what he can with an underdeveloped character whose loyalties are often in question. Csokas’ character is a clichéd villain, and he plays him with clear hint of disinterest. But Raba clearly has a lot of fun as Venegas and provides the bulk of the laughs and memorable moments.
Freelance has the unenviable record of scoring 0 on the aggregate Rotten Tomatoes site, but audiences should ignore the haters as this proves to be little more than an entertaining enough diversion, provided you leave your brain at the cinema door.