From an energetic opening heist sequence, complete with slick full-body suits and voice modifying masks left over from a Daft Punk concert, to an extended cat-and-mouse shootout in an abandoned factory, Momentum doesn’t skimp on hard-hitting, high-octane action, and its streamlined (and very silly) plot moves from over-the-top setpiece to setpiece with refreshing self-awareness.
Olga Kurylenko, a long way from Quantum of Solace, stars as Alex, one of the ultra-professional thieves in that aforementioned heist, which director Stephen Campanelli handles with style and unexpected creativity. She’s a very believable badass, delivering high kicks and bullet sprays with a cold, methodical detachment that fits the character nicely.
Unfortunately, though Alex and her co-criminals were simply going after diamonds, they also end up in possession of an all-important flash drive, which contains top-secret information that could jeopardize the nefarious machinations of a U.S. senator (Morgan Freeman, literally phoning it in with a cameo role). A few over-complicated double-crosses later, Alex finds herself on the run from assassin Mr. Washington (James Purefoy) and his team of highly trained killers, all of whom are more than willing to kill, maim and generally unleash chaos in their efforts to retrieve the drive.
Director Stephen Campanelli, a longtime Steadicam operator on Clint Eastwood’s production crew, clearly knows how to handle an action sequence, and he executes Momentum‘s with enough precision and style to give them a big edge over what one usually expects to find in direct-to-video action fare. He makes a lot of smart choices and no excuses for the bare-bones nature of Adam Marcus and Debra Sullivan’s script, instead working to make the movie visually, if not narratively, tight as a drum.
And in Kurylenko, the director has a wholly capable lead. Though the camera’s early ogling of the actress’ long legs and shapely derriere leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, Momentum mostly course-corrects once the fists start flying in earnest, recognizing Alex for the fierce and quick-witted fighter she is. Kurylenko doesn’t knock every line out of the park, but she does action well and with enough charisma to make even some of the most atrocious lines bearable.
Meanwhile, Purefoy seems to be having a total blast playing yet another well-mannered monster. Here and on The Following, the actor has mastered the art of menacing line delivery, lingering on each threat’s every syllable, and Momentum gives him plenty of material to work with. At one point, Alex hurls insults Washington’s way and dismisses him for being pretty one-dimensional in his villainy – an amusing if somewhat self-defeating term for a movie written like this to be throwing around – but if Washington is a cartoon, at least he’s one played with gleefully malevolent panache.
Ultimately, it’s the cat-and-mouse game between these two performers that gives the movie its lasting, ahem, momentum. Both commit to their cut-out roles with an enthusiasm and devotion that elevates stock writing to the point of sturdy entertainment, and even if their dynamic becomes increasingly tenuous and inconsistent as Momentum barrels into its climax, the film still offers Kurylenko and Purefoy plenty of space to bounce off one another.
In terms of plot, the movie is a lot shakier, serving up reheated spy backstories, some extremely predictable twists and turns, and a wide-reaching government conspiracy that only really takes shape as Momentum engages in shameless (and shockingly concentrated) table-setting for a follow-up. That Freeman’s tertiary character would have to take on a much larger role in any kind of Momentum 2 is just one reason of many that sequel seems laughably unlikely (the A-lister only offered his services to Campanelli here as a personal favor to the first-time director). And besides, the script becomes so wrapped up in laying out a plot it all but explicitly states it will need at least one more film to conclude means that Momentum ends up feeling half-told.
When it’s not saddling itself with setup, though, Momentum flies by on its lean editing, above-average direction and solid cast. No one’s going to be raving about it a few weeks from now, and that sequel would come as a serious (if not at all unpleasant) surprise, but there’s something to be said for direct, diverting action entertainment that’s competently made and enjoyably acted. It really doesn’t matter all that much that Momentum continues to build without going anywhere all that interesting. Everyone in the audience is more interested in the adrenaline rush of the journey than the final destination, anyway.
You can say this much for Momentum - it more than sustains its own.