They used to call them B-pictures. The undercard of double features, back in the day when such things were a thing, they boasted (modestly) modest budgets, modest running times, stars of modest stature and modest narrative ambitions. They aimed to entertain without much muss and fuss, and then get out of the way to make room for the main event.
Double features have long gone the way of the great auk, but Bs still fly from time to time into today’s ’plexes. Case in point: “Free Fire.”
With the likes of Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Brie Larson heading the cast, and with a British guy named Ben Wheatley in the director’s chair (if you can find it, check out his ultralow-budget “A Field in England”: Guy’s got skills), this is not a production of high prominence. And with the whole of it set in a crummy warehouse, you can bet not a lot of coin was expended on production design.
But what really cements its B bona fides are bullets. And blood. There’s an abundance of both in “Free Fire.”
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What we have here is a down-and-dirty picture. Which is to say its entire cast is downed in a hail of gunfire whereupon, variously and continually wounded, they spend most of the movie crawling over the filthy warehouse floor, shooting the living bejabbers out of one another.
It’s all the result of a gun deal gone badly wrong. One group of lowlifes has “the merch” (so called), cases of assault weapons. The other has the cash. Nobody trusts anybody else very much, and when two half-wits start throwing punches and imprecations, things quickly escalate, and the warehouse becomes a shooting gallery.
Interspersed with the bullets are volleys of wise-guy banter: “I’m not dead; I’m just regrouping.” And, “so that’s what a (expletive) brain looks like.”
Mostly, though, the dialogue consists of gasps, grunts and moans of pain. And curses. Lots and lots of curses.
With everybody shooting at everybody else, confusion reigns, until someone plaintively cries, “I forgot whose side I’m on!”
Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer.
Director: Ben Wheatley.
Running time: 1:25.
Rated: R, for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use.