Apple's 'Cherry' Sends Tom Holland to a Bloody War Zone of Clichés

This gritty film adaptation of Nico Walker's novel from 'Avengers: Endgame' directors, the Russo Brothers, gets lost in a haze.

Apple TV+

Between 2006's forgettable studio comedy You, Me and Dupree and 2014's superhero tentpole Captain America: The Winter Soldier, brother filmmaking duo Anthony and Joe Russo directed over 30 episodes of NBC sitcom Community, a cult series that often changed up its visual style depending on the subject matter or the larger theme of the episode. Led by Joel McHale's square-jawed protagonist, the show's group of community college students could be thrust into a space drama, a Western, a war film, a documentary, or a Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fantasy. No matter what genre the writers threw at them, the Russo Brothers could execute. 

That desire to execute, playfully mimic, knowingly tweak, and dutifully pay homage is immediately evident while watching Cherry, the pair's first directing project since landing the unwieldy pop-culture aircraft carrier of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Despite the presence of Tom Holland, the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Cherry is an attempt to create distance from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tell a more serious story. An adaptation of writer Nico Walker's semi-autobiographical 2018 novel, the duo's latest, now available on Apple TV+, is a lumbering tank of a movie outfitted with an arsenal of tics, affectations, and flourishes. You can picture Community's resident movie buff Abed nodding along to each meta-wink.

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What do all the direct-address to the camera monologues, carefully staged overhead shots, and shifts in aspect ratio amount to? The hyper-referential, don't-look-away visual language of Cherry is an awkward fit for the film's story, which tracks a nameless millennial protagonist (Holland) as he falls in love with a young woman, Ciara Bravo's sweet Emily, and then heads off to war as an Army medic, a harrowing experience that sends him back home to Ohio with PTSD that he treats with handfuls of opioids. How does he fund his increasingly out-of-control drug habit? Robbing banks. 

Beyond the potential prestige of tackling a literary adaptation after years in Disney's green-screen trenches, it's not too hard to see what initially drew the Russo Brothers to this material: violence, dark humor, and Ohio, the state where the two were born and raised. But over a 141-minute runtime, the film struggles to find an emotional or psychological read on its own flailing characters. The drug sequences require Holland and Bravo to argue and scream and flush drugs down the toilet with Goodfellas-like vigor, while the combat set-pieces pulverize with explosions, carnage, and stretches of Jarhead-esque tedium. Despite the relative technical know-how on display, neither arrive at any fresh insights. The robberies at least introduce a baseline of tension, but even that simmering dread gets undercut with aggressive editing choices and cutesy joke names for the banks like Capitalist One, Shitty Bank, and Bank Fucks America.

As the film stretches on, moments that should have a visceral impact, like the image of Holland stabbing a needle into his own leg in a car or puking down the front of his shirt while preparing to commit a felony, play like empty shock and awe tactics. All exclamation points all the time. Where Walker's book attains a doomed beauty that recalls the work of Denis Johnson in its rough-hewn tenderness, the movie version of Cherry never finds the proper chaotic rhythm. The lack of lived-in texture, the movie's nearly complete inability to immerse you in what should be a skin-crawling descent into hell, is startling. There's a disturbing plasticity, an almost algorithmic lack of a pulse. The managerial compulsion to execute at all costs is a poor match for the novel's bleak central question: What are we even doing here? 

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.