'Ava' Is the Latest Junky Action Movie to Hit Big on Netflix
The assassin thriller's not even that great, but fans of the genre will likely end up streaming it anyway.
Ever since Netflix unveiled its Top 10 feature earlier this year, the ever-changing list has provided an occasionally bizarre look at what's actually popular on the service. For example, last week's Mank, a much-discussed likely Oscar contender from director David Fincher, made only a brief appearance in the Top 10 movie list before being unceremoniously bumped by Little Nicky, an Adam Sandler movie from 2000 where the comedian plays the son of Satan. As of this writing, the top spot on the list belongs to Ava, a Jessica Chastain vehicle that briefly played in theaters back in August before arriving on Netflix on December 7. Unless Mank carried a pistol in his Netflix thumbnail, Fincher's movie didn't stand a chance.
The Top 10 has become a breeding ground for junky, violent action movies that had largely unremarkable runs in theaters. These are some of the other titles currently hanging in the Top 10: 2016's wannabe crime epic Triple 9, which features a truly wild Kate Winslet performance as a Russian mobster; 2018's vigilante thriller Peppermint, which finds Jennifer Garner going full Death Wish; and 2016's heist drama Marauders, which stars Bruce Willis and looks like it was generated by a direct-to-DVD algorithm. Earlier this year, the Mark Wahlberg spy bloodbath Mile 22, a would-be franchise starter from 2018, also briefly blew up on Netflix. These movies shouldn't be confused with the in-house Netflix action movies—projects like Extraction, The Old Guard, Project Power, and Spencer Confidential, another attempt at a Wahlberg series—that also flood the streaming service.
While Ava might look like a high-octane gun-fu throat-punch in the mold of John Wick or Atomic Blonde, the movie is both stranger and more frustrating than its marketing material suggests. It opens predictably enough, with Chastain putting on a chipper Southern accent and picking up a man at an airport before shooting him in the backseat of her car. But as her character Ava moves through the world, trading banter with her handler Duke (John Malkovich) and visiting with her mother Bobbi (Geena Davis), the movie shifts into an odd tonal register between family melodrama and espionage potboiler. Ava herself is confused, questioning the ethics of her line of work, and so is the movie around her.
Ava was directed by Tate Taylor, who was brought in to replace the film's original director, screenwriter Matthew Newton, after his history of alleged assault surfaced, and the movie shares some of the herky jerky rhythms as Taylor's last film, 2019's Octavia Spencer movie Ma. That movie gleefully switched between broad comedy and tawdry psychological horror, playing up the absurdity of the premise; it wasn't exactly good, but it was playful. There's a reason it generated so many silly memes.
Taylor has less success with Ava, which will probably not inspire many jokes online. Instead of a Bourne-like globe-trotting conspiracy plot, Newton's script places its ass-kicking protagonist at an awkward dinner with her estranged sister (Jess Weixler) and her sister's husband (Common), who also has a gambling problem and used to date Ava. There's too much going on, almost like the movie thinks an abundance of psychobabble can paper over a lack of character development, and most of it is uninteresting. (It doesn't help that so much of the movie takes place in generic-looking hotel rooms and lobbies.)
Like many of the other junky action movies available on Netflix, Ava does at least boast one fun performance. Chastain, who is playing a variation on the hardened CIA agent she played in Zero Dark Thirty, doesn't really get a chance to enjoy herself here. She's too busy making amends, choking out henchmen, and attempting to control her drinking problem. Luckily, Colin Farrell plays the villain Simon, and he expertly smirks his way through his role. He's an actor who would do well in his own Netflix action movie—or he should just release a forgettable thriller and wait for it to end up on the service.
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