REVIEW: Outside the Wire (2021)

Outside the Wire Image
‘Outside the Wire,’ — Photo: Jonathan Prime / Netflix.

Directed by Mikael Håfström — Screenplay by Rob Yescombe & Rowan Athale.

In 2020, Netflix found some success by placing a Marvel star in a fast-paced action movie with a somewhat forgettable plot with the Chris Hemsworth-led Extraction, which I liked. Now, in 2021, Netflix is hoping that they can do the same thing again with Outside the Wire, a science fiction action film starring Anthony Mackie, from the director of the John Cusack-led 1408, which I actually also like quite a bit. Unfortunately, Outside the Wire is nowhere near as effective of an action film as Extraction was, and they forgot to make it as fast-paced as the aforementioned film. Instead, we’re left with a serviceable but incredibly forgettable and generic science fiction flick.

Set in 2036, Mikael Håfström’s Outside the Wire follows a former drone pilot, Lt. Harp (played by Damson Idris), who is being punished for disobeying a direct order. Harp has been sent away from the relative safety of the drone pilot seat — where he would, for some reason, enjoy gummy bears — to Ukraine where Americans are deployed as a ‘peacekeeping’ force. In the American military camp in Ukraine, Harp is assigned to Captain Leo (played by Anthony Mackie), who is secretly a highly advanced android prototype. Harp and Leo are a curious duo, as the human Harp is more analytical and robotic than Leo who, we’re told, ‘feels more.’ Together, they go on a mission to track down and stop Viktor Koval (played by Pilou Asbæk), an Eastern European terrorist, but not everything is as it seems.

It’s always interesting to see how an actor capitalizes on the stardom afforded to them after having appeared in vastly popular blockbusters such as the superhero films that Anthony Mackie has had prominent roles in. In recent years, he has even been handed Captain America’s shield as a passing of the torch in the Disney-Marvel films, which is a huge responsibility that I think is exciting for him to take on. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in the Disney+ series The Falcon and Winter Soldier, which will let the spotlight of the Marvel Cinematic Universe focus on Mackie more than it ever has.

However, outside of the Marvel films, his greatest role is still as Sergeant J. T. Sanborn in 2008’s The Hurt Locker, which earned him awards recognition and critical praise. Although I really liked him in The Night Before, wherein he got the chance to showcase his comedic side, I don’t think he has had as much success outside of the Marvel films as one might’ve expected when they first made him a recognizable face on the big screen.

On Netflix, he has gotten the chance to really take on some hefty and often leading roles — in Altered Carbon, Point Blank, and IO — but oftentimes his Netflix projects haven’t been particularly fruitful or successful. Outside the Wire doesn’t turn that tide, unfortunately. Although I absolutely do think that the best thing about this film is the natural charm that Mackie brings to his role, the film as a whole feels messy and muddled.

The basic premise is not difficult to understand. This is not the first film to include American soldiers as a peacekeeping force during a war in a foreign country. But the science fiction elements of the plot are not always as successfully integrated as you would want. Sometimes it feels like the film is about to really talk about something interesting in regards to Asimov’s laws or the design of Leo’s android, but, in the end, it all amounted to just two or three intriguing lines of dialogue. As the plot develops, what seemed to be so simple becomes overly complex and unsatisfying (especially towards the end of the film).

I’ve already mentioned that Mackie is the best thing about the film, but I would also like to say that some of the robots are brought to life in a really cool way (the visual effects design of robots and robot dogs reminded me of several other properties). As for the other performances in the film, I don’t have a lot of praise to hand out. Damson Idris’ protagonist is generic and uninteresting, and Pilou Asbæk is wasted on a surprisingly small role as the film’s antagonist.

One would hope that the film’s action scenes could save the final product, but I don’t think they do. While there are some clean action sequences to enjoy here and there, I came away from the film with very few positive things to say about its action sequences. There is an action scene about fifty minutes into the film with so many cuts that it made my head hurt a little bit. I would also add that I was unimpressed by the way the film tried to communicate that Mackie’s character is a super-powered android with slightly sped-up actions and whooshing sound effects.

Unfortunately, Mikael Håfström’s frustratingly bland Outside the Wire did not end up being the action movie star-vehicle for Anthony Mackie that Extraction was for Chris Hemsworth. Instead, it is a sometimes needlessly convoluted or incoherent science fiction film that is entertaining in moments, but which, on the whole, leaves a lot to be desired.

4.5 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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