In celebrity interviews on television, Margot Robbie comes off like “the girl next door.” On screen, however, her persona is more like the girl who will end up putting you in jail or worse. Robbie purred and slithered all over Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” She stole “Suicide Squad” with a Harley Quinn characterization as lethal as she was lovely. And now, in the stylish new noir “Terminal”, she plays such a man-eater that she might as well be an anaconda. Co-stars Simon Pegg, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher, and Mike Myers are swallowed whole by her femme fatale. And she does it all without once smearing her lipstick.
In “Terminal” Robbie plays Annie, a dangerous woman out for revenge. As the film starts, she is contracted to take out a local gangster, and her bravado clues us in that she’ll rub him out as surely as he applies her green lipstick. Annie never blinks, her voice never falters, and the vixen manages to walk in 4-inch heels like she was born in them. She’s so expert at her lethal skills, she probably could’ve walked up to Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” and stolen his stones before he raised a glove to her.
Annie’s vengeful ventures will send her into the dark underbelly of London, albeit one lit like it’s a tantalizing perfume commercial. The film is too sultry by half, even when Robbie isn’t in the frame. Never has the criminal underworld of Cockney thugs glistened with such glamour. Annie fits right in with her extraordinary allure as well as her determination to dominate the criminal element she’ll encounter.
During her efforts to best the bad men who cross her path, Annie loves to play dress-up. In one scenario, she dolls herself up like a Chinatown dragon lady. In yet another, she takes on the guise of a kittenish stripper who brags about showing clients her tail. Even her diner waitress uniform looks like one of those sleazy adult costumes they sell at Halloween Spirit stores. She is dressed to the excess in every scene, but it robs her of some of her menace.
Writer/director Vaughn Stein has learned a lot from the genre, culling bits off of everything from “Body Heat” to “Snatch” to “Sin City”, but it feels like he’s riffing more on noir style than hardboiled Hammett prose. Neon lighting bathe every scene, all the pavements gleam from the rain, and his dialogue is so loaded it probably should carry a permit. It’s all such a “movie-movie” that it never becomes quite the thriller it wants to be.
Veteran comic Simon Pegg brings a heavy dose of pathos to his suicidal teacher Bill, but he feels like he belongs in a more serious film. Still, his scenes with Robbie crackle with tension as he holds his own with her. Fletcher and Irons, as two quippy cons at odds with Annie, don’t succeed as strongly. They’re capable actors but their bitchy repartee isn’t nearly as clever as it should be, and they are far too milquetoast to be proper foils for Annie’s homicidal harpy. Most shockingly, the film fails to add real heat to Annie’s flirtation with Max. For such a sexy looking film, where’s the sex?
The film is shot exquisitely, and it’s deftly edited, but its stylization keeps it at arms’ length. That becomes especially apparent in how Mike Myers plays the critical role of Clinton, the mysterious terminal custodian. Myers plays the deceptively salty old coot in heavy make-up, and it can’t help but draw unfavorable comparisons to the likes of “Fat Bastard” in his “Austin Powers” parodies. The ruse makes this film feel like even more of a lampoon rather than a legit noir.
Even the framing and lighting in “Terminal” borders on caricature. Ace cinematographer Christopher Ross buttresses pinks and reds jauntily up against lime greens, but it looks like panels from a graphic novel too much of the time. Its look can’t help but draw comparisons to how “Creepshow” was lit in 1982 to give it a comic book feel. Because “Terminal” is photographed with such a heightened theatricality, the story’s grit tends not to stick. The body count piles up but we know who’s going to be standing at the end.
What does stick out is Robbie. With the previously mentioned films from her resume, as well as her Oscar-nominated turn in “I, Tonya”, she’s proven to be the real deal as an actress and a movie star. She utterly commands the screen in her naughty vamp role and helps gloss and gleam over some of the more problematic parts of the story. And with as much gleaming neon as there is all around her in every frame, to shine more says a whole lot about her formidable talent. Watch the trailer.