Ava Review: A Great Cast Can’t Rise Above A Dull Script

Even with a decent cast, Ava adds little to the assassin thriller genre.

It’s a story we’ve seen countless times before: a highly-skilled assassin with a dark past is targeted for elimination by the very organization she is a part of. Unfortunately, Ava adds little to the genre to keep views entertained in a movie that feels like it was put together from scraps of far better films that were left on the edit room floor.

Jessica Chastain stars as the titular Ava, a trained assassin who likes to ask her targets what they’ve done to deserve their end. Her father-figure handler Duke (John Malkovich), feels the heat from his protégé Simon (Colin Farrell) who wants Ava out of the picture after a botched job.

We get most of Ava’s origin story in a montage over the opening credits – a gifted student-turned-bad girl with a rap sheet, recruited into the military where she questioned authority but picked up combat skills before she was honourably discharged. Add in another backstory about a gambling and addiction problem, a dysfunctional family featuring an estranged sister (Jess Weixler) and her boyfriend (Common), and a miserable mother (Geena Davis). Together, all of these half-baked storylines plus every tired cliché you can think gives you Ava, a movie that cant rise above its dull script no matter how seriously it takes itself.

Released directly to VOD with little fanfare, Ava has many flaws. Written by Matthew Newton who was set to direct until Chastain, who also serves as a producer, got flack for having someone with domestic abuse charges against him on the film. After Newton stepped down, The Help’s Tate Taylor took over directing duties. He’s someone who technically knows how to make a movie but can’t seem to be bothered to rise above the thrills of a TV pilot, and not a very good one at that.

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Somewhere along the line, the film’s title and name of the main character was changed from “Eve” to “Ava” after production had already begun. The result is a messy composite of what someone thinks a movie about an assassin should be, stitched together with voiceover narration and blasé plot revelations that come so haphazardly the audience has no idea what is happening or why they should care. It’s astonishing that anyone in the cast would sign on to this movie based on the script alone.

Filled with countless clichés and plot lines that don’t go anywhere, Ava wastes its entire cast, especially Davis by having her bed-ridden in a hospital to serve as the catalyst for Ava’s return to her hometown.

The story only gets more ridiculously steeped in family melodrama as time goes on and soon Ava is rescuing her sister’s boyfriend – who used to be her fiancé whom she up and left  – from the clutches of a gambling den madam named Toni (Joan Chen). And inexplicably, the two Asian characters in the film are both named Tony, illustrating the sheer lack of attention or care anyone involved in the project gave this movie.

The one highlight of the movie is a knock-down, drag-out fight between Chastain and Farrell that doesn’t hold back the punches. It’s a bloody, rolling on the floor, table-smashing well-choreographed fight sequence but it’s also one you can tell is coming within the first 15 minutes of the film, rendering anything that happens before it completely useless. It’s a shame their on-screen meet-up comes so late into the film because the duo has such great chemistry as demonstrated in Liv Ullmann’s Miss Julie.

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Chastain is convincing as an assassin, albeit a pale imitation of Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde. But nevertheless, it’s the type of role she should be cast in again to see what she can do with a more-deserving script.  It’s too bad neither she nor Tate gave her much to do in between fights other than stare longingly at hotel minibars because – get it – she used to have a drinking problem.

With far too many pointless subplots and too few action scenes, Ava is a waste of time…at least for anyone who doesn’t like a good Farrell moustache. But even then, it’s barely worth inclusion in a Colin Farrell Film Festival.

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