Talk about a Cherry bomb! Avengers: Endgame directors Joe and Anthony Russo tread dramatic waters, but the result out-stupids anything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cherry is brash, loud, and bull-headed junk. The film adapts Nico Walker’s book about a do-nothing punk (Tom Holland) who enlists in the army and loses his life to drugs. The kid, nicknamed Cherry, needs a distraction when his girlfriend Emily (Clara Bravo) plans to move away for university. Whether to reaffirm his masculinity or to provide a distraction, the war in Iraq changes Cherry’s life. The results are not good, for both Cherry and the audience.
Cherry careens through the young man’s tale in fits and starts. It begins when he’s robbing banks and then offers his origin story, so to speak. Cherry is a terrible robber and a clumsy putz. Something of a hopped-up Jesse James, Cherry robs folks politely, yet mucks up nearly every score. He’s cleaning up a mess with no signs of the army’s influence for making things shipshape.
A punch in the nuts
The story looks back at Cherry’s school days when he meets Emily on campus. They flirt and bang a lot, but the film affords little chance to see a meaningful relationship. This is one of those totally OCD movies in which one scene careens into the next. Scenes transition fleetingly, and shots last for nanoseconds, offering little opportunity for character development. This hurdle affords little emotional engagement as Cherry and Emily spiral out of control.
Once Cherry ships off to boot camp, he’s in Full Metal Jacket territory. The trainers humiliate the recruit and he gets punched in the dick a few times (the only time Cherry provokes a reaction in a viewer), but perseveres and becomes a medic. Then, once off to Iraq, he encounters terrible horrors that reframe his reality.
In Iraq, the Russo’s seem most firmly in their territory. There are some outstanding set pieces here, notably an intense assault in which Cherry loses his innocence. The war scenes strike with searing intensity (yet way too much lens flare) and are action sequences from talents who know their terrain.
However, what matters is not the chaos of war but the hell that comes after it. And hell there is as Cherry sinks into depression upon his return. Curled up in Emily’s arms, he guzzles prescription drugs to ease the pain. Emily soon joins the fun out of boredom, and the duo descends into a hellish struggle with addiction. Holland does his best to convey Cherry’s restlessness as drugs numb his soul. His behaviour becomes more frazzled and frenzied as Cherry and Emily find themselves consumed with locating their next fix. There’s a worthy reminder in Cherry that opioids take countless lives. But for a film about a pandemic that’s quietly exploded, Cherry barely lets one care about the lives at stake.
The film unfortunately does its subject matter a disservice. An ungodly Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together with the leftover bits of Jarhead’s toes, Trainspotting’s needle-shot arm, and Go’s brain that was long ago fried on drugs, Cherry is the worst kind of derivative filmmaking. This is not a nuanced portrait of addiction that demands deeper consideration. It’s an exercise in style. War and addiction serve as fodder for kinetic production value. Memorable elements punked from independent films are amped up on steroids. The screenplay mistakes a fractured timeline for postmodern thoughtfulness, never creating the opportunities for empathy that Cherry desperately needs. It merely shuffles scenes bingo bango bongo as Cherry and his fellow inept users or dealers dig themselves into deeper holes. Cherry breaks the wall a few times, inserting Guy Ritchie-ish winks to the crowd, in stylish self-referential tics that simply don’t jive with the material.
Admittedly, the Russo brothers can make a movie from a technical perspective. They know where to put a camera. Nearly every shot looks in Cherry looks great, and the action’s pretty slick. But looks are only half the battle. Having something to say should be a given when one takes on so much weighty material. The Russos leave audiences with a hollow, empty, and joyless experience.
Cherry is the pits
Cherry is unrelentingly and unbearably bleak. Which says a lot considering that the Marvel movies literally changed the way films are produced and distributed. Mass franchises, tent poles, and escapist extravaganzas overwhelm the multiplex with each installment in the cinematic universe. The Russos seem a victim of their own making, struggling to put the “cinema” back into the universe. The film’s finale, set to overwrought opera, literally had me laughing when it should have struck a chord of deep sobriety.
Reared on technically accomplished yet ultimately disposable escapist junk—the film equivalent of Fruit Loops or Cap’n Crunch—the filmmakers are left adrift in an economy in which substance is an afterthought. And for all the nonsense the MCU movies produced, I’d never call them boring. For Cherry, however, choking on one’s own vomit is a definite possibility.
Cherry lands on AppleTV+ on March 12.