It’s hard to imagine a world in which a movie where a missile-heavy interceptor base is held captive by terrorists planning to launch sixteen stolen ICBMs could be totally unstimulating. And yet, thriller novelist Matthew Reilly has made it happen with his tenuous directorial debut, Interceptor.
The new Netflix action film follows JJ Collins (Fast & Furious’s Elsa Pataky), a military captain with a troubled past who is unexpectedly assigned to a new post on an interceptor base somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. The base is one of two designed to identify and shoot down nuclear missiles heading toward the United States. Almost immediately upon arrival, JJ and her team get word that terrorists have seized the second base in Alaska. Could this mean that these baddies have their sights set on JJ’s base next? You got it.
The next ninety minutes see slick and savvy JJ doing everything in her powers to stop this deadly attack from happening. What should be an adrenaline-pinching, ticking time-bomb thriller, though, instead falls somewhat flat in Interceptor.
Any way you look at it, Interceptor boasts a fun, high-concept premise. Oddly enough, though, Reilly and co-writer Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Collateral), don’t quite seem to grasp what a gem of a conceit they have here. This becomes apparent as the majority of the film is played completely straight, without a much-needed edge of hijinks or humor. Characters read off heavy-handed lines about the impending destruction without any air of playfulness. Competently choreographed action sequences occur frequently, but their players seem a little, well… bored, and the scenes are consequently lacking in the delightful melodramatic enthusiasm we see in more entertaining thrillers.
Indeed, the tone of Interceptor is far too serious and dull to produce an amusing watch, but what makes it even more laborious to sit through is its sloppily shoe-horned moral undertones. JJ has a dark past in the military, and we learn through flashbacks that she was sexually assaulted by a commanding officer. When she reported it, she was harassed and ridiculed by her male peers. Though it’s an interesting issue, this storyline does little to move the plot, and, in the end, feels more like a carelessly placed obligatory #MeToo mention than anything else. Interceptor’s below-the-line message suggests that it’s immigrants that make America tick fares better, but it too feels forced.
None of these problems are rescued by the film’s lead actors, either, who, despite trying their best, are forced by the script to give flat and awkward performances. Pataky clearly has some acting chops, and she pulls off the action sequences impressively well. But the character of JJ isn’t given any true depth beyond the underdog edge provided to her by her past, and so Pataky isn’t given much to do besides dish out roundhouse kicks and cliched stoic lines about saving the world. This is inevitably uninteresting to watch and doesn’t really beg the viewer to root for her to succeed.
Similarly, Interceptor’s main terrorist, Alexander (Luke Bracey), is only slightly more than your run-of-the-mill cliched villain, with his motivations springing from a grudge against the powers-that-be. Stony-faced and cynical, Bracey has no nuance to offer what might have been a more interesting character with complex motivations.
Some action films are handicapped by stilted performances and on-the-nose writing but are rescued from the rubble, at least somewhat, by dazzling sets, high-value production design, and inspiring cinematography. Sadly, Interceptor has none of the above. The main base is so obviously built on a set that one might half-expect the characters to suddenly tear down the walls of their fake world like in Mission: Impossible – Fallout or The Truman Show. Not only that, but props and sets are inconspicuously reused, not quite justified by the fact that the entire budget seemingly went to a couple of CG rockets.
There are some parts of Interceptor that are entertaining to watch, and those looking for a quick, harmless action romp can do far worse. Plus, a film with such a high-stakes conceit is never going to be a total drag to watch. It’s just disheartening to see a movie about a character attempting to save millions of lives be fashioned in such a haphazard way. From its performances to its writing to its look, Interceptor surely doesn’t go out with a bang.