Thursday, May 2, 2024

'Chief Of Station' (2024) Movie Review

aaron eckhart on a phone
Another week, another direct-to-video action-thriller. Lately, many of these stars either Aaron Eckhart or Olga Kurylenko, and director Jesse V. Johnson’s Chief of Station happens to feature both. (It truly only stars Eckhart, with Kurylenko relegated to a supporting role, but we’ll take it.)


This is the type of programmer that populated theaters on the regular in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Mid-budget, fronted by a recognizable face or two, though not blockbuster mega stars, with a solid, often journeyman director at the helm. These films were sturdy and workmanlike. Not always super memorable, they scratch a particular itch and tend to be perfectly satisfying in the moment. And this movie fits that bill to a tee.


[Related Reading: 'Avengement' Movie Review]

aaron eckhart and olga kurylenko

Eckhart plays Ben Malloy, a CIA Station Chief. Sure, he’s a spy, but he has a super idyllic life with a loving wife, Farrah (Laetitia Eido), also a spy. When she gets all blowed up, he’s sad and retires and now his son, Nick (Chris Petrovski), won’t take his calls. But wait, maybe his wife’s death wasn’t an accident. (From context, I had no idea the boom was supposed to be an accident until a character says so, the movie makes it seem like it was intentional.) His quest to find out what really happened, and maybe clear her name—there’s a half-hearted attempt to paint her as possibly dirty—Malloy reluctantly returns to the shadowy world of his former spy games.


Narratively, Chief of Station is Tom Clancy light, like an airport dad novel brought to life. The plot is a convoluted mess of various factions, shifting loyalties, betrayals, twists, and close calls. At the same time, it is also vague and ill-defined. The script by George Mahaffey never clarifies any concrete objectives or specific stakes. Everyone is looking for some item, probably something Malloy’s wife gave him, though it’s never clear what it is, or what the consequences will be if any one party lays hands on it. It’s like the writer typed “spy stuff happens here” on the page and forgot to go back and fill it in. And all the typical espionage tropes do happen at one point or another.


[Related Reading: 'Sentinelle' Movie Review]

olga kurylenko and aaron eckhart

This is a nice-looking movie. Johnson makes use of European locations and employs cool, run-down industrial settings to excellent effect. Overall, this feels like a substantially larger budget than Johnson often has to work with, and he puts it all there on the screen for us to see. 


Of course, the action, when it kicks in, is as strong as it ever—the stunt-performer-turned-director is nothing if not dependable in this realm. There’s not as much of it as in some of his other movies, notably his team ups with Scott Adkins. Instead of making that the centerpiece, the movie focuses more on tense thriller beats full of escalating pressure and suspense. Except none of the intrigue is as taut or exhilarating as it needs to be.


[Related Reading: ‘Boudica: Queen of War’ Movie Review]

olga kurylenko in chief of station

The final act pulls out all the big guns, literally and metaphorically, and delivers, with shootouts, a bitching car chase, a nice hand-to-hand tussle, among other kickass bits. This is where Kurylenko finally shows up—there’s a photo of her on a computer early on, but she doesn’t appear on screen until the 59-minute mark. She has one big scene, which rules, but is mostly an exposition machine and largely underutilized.


Eckhart does another sound, sturdy job fronting one of these mid-tier affairs. See this year’s The Bricklayer for another. He has enough charisma and presence to carry things, though he doesn’t exactly light the frame on fire—it’s easy to see why studios once had him earmarked for superstar status, but also how that never fully came to pass. But he’s settled into a nice niche with genre work of this scope and scale, and I’m here for that career arc.


[Related Reading: ‘The Bricklayer’ Movie Review]

alex pettyfer in chief of station

A number of Johnson’s usual co-conspirators also make appearances at the party. Chief among them, Daniel Bernhardt. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to do. He gets one shining moment to show off his skills as one of the best action performers currently working, but other than that, he’s relegated to the role of generic goon. Though he looks rad covered in Russian prison tattoos. James Faulkner shows up in a couple of scenes as “elder intelligence agent,” with little more meat than that. After stealing Johnson’s Hell Hath No Fury, Nina Bergman pops in for a single scene. It’s set up as if it will materialize into something more, but nothing ever develops with that aside and it winds up expendable. Alex Pettyfer does a serviceable job as another espionage practitioner, who you know is the villain from frame one. You see him and say, “Yep, he’s a bad guy.”


There are a few plot gaffs, like Malloy not knowing a character’s name, despite being told it a few scenes earlier, or gunfire and an explosion on a not-large boat not alerting bad guys that things are afoot. The movie never transcends or escapes its espionage tale trappings—it never tries to rewrite the formula, but it’s so paint-by-numbers. Again, if you stick around until the final act, there’s a decent reward waiting. Chief of Station feels like a movie that’ll do big numbers on Netflix in a couple months. It’ll pop into the top ten for a week or two and clickbait movie sites will write about a forgotten action movie burning up the algorithm. A lot of people will watch it, though most of them won’t remember a ton of details. [Grade: C+]


SPOILER: I don’t want to ruin anything, but there’s a fantastic moment at the end where Nick, Molloy’s son, straight up executes a defenseless, incapacitated villain with a grenade freakin’ launcher. (Granted, the baddie did kill the boy’s mom.) But most importantly, DADDY IS SUPER PROUD!! It’s hilariously mean-spirited.


hskrfanz said...

I like the term 'Tom Clancy Light' good description. Spy thriller with half the was fun though on a rainy night (like Budapest)

Brent McKnight said...

Yeah, it's exactly the movie it look like, and sometimes that's exactly what you want to see!