In ‘98, Guy Ritchie landed on the scene with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the English equivalent to a Quentin Tarantino picture that washed up on the tail end of a pop wave following the massive success of Pulp Fiction (’94). Certainly a far cry from dreck like 2 Days In The Valley (’96), Ritchie collected his own cadre of fast-talking hustlers (including a young, former Olympic Diving Team hopeful named Jason Statham) and had them spit a bunch of semi-clever dialogue at one another, while getting embroiled in some colorful schemes involving pot and antiquated firearms. Ritchie followed that modest hit with Snatch (’00) – another hyperactively-edited crime fantasy (this time sporting turns from Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Benicio del Toro) – and a few other crime yarns (we don’t discuss Swept Away [‘02] in this house) before moving on to bigger studios and franchises, rightfully recognizing that you can only ride a manifestly superior filmmaker's coattails for so long.
Had writer/director Vaughn Stein's freshman feature Terminal been released shortly after Lock, Stock, its chief influence would've been just a touch too obvious. Featuring one of Ritchie's favorite recurring players (Dexter Fletcher) in another overly-stylized vision about hit men double-crossing one another in a cartoonishly heightened world where seemingly only bad people live, Terminal is Guy Ritchie Lite, eschewing the funny in favor of many portentous monologues centered on death and divine retribution. Meanwhile, a portly Mike Myers does his Austin Powers accent, randomly appearing in scenes as some sort of cosmic street vendor/janitor, quick to dispense wisdom on train station platforms or bring the mop following a bloody execution. Breaking up these monotonous sequences of criminal cosplaying is a costume-jumping femme fatale (Margot Robbie), who tries to talk a terminally ill primary school teacher (Simon Pegg) into doing the humane thing and jumping from the nearest tall building.
Only where Ritchie kept his convoluted stories contained to the grimy back alleys of London, adding an air of distinct authenticity to those pulp proceedings, Stein instead opts to construct a pure anti-reality, soaked in smoke and popping primary colors (think: Alex Proyas’ Dark City [‘98] filtered through a mid-bender Frank Miller). This makes sense, given Stein began his career as a production assistant on big budget larks like Sherlock Holmes (’09) and Prince of Persia (’09), before graduating to assistant director on the final chapter of the Harry Potter franchise and World War Z (’13). Though it’s obviously a modestly-priced affair, Stein makes Terminal look like it should be playing at your local megaplex. In fact, the technical aspects of his debut are really the only elements that can be written home about in any sort of positive fashion; cinematographer Christopher Ross – who's become Danny Boyle's DP du jour via his Getty FX series Trust – becoming the MVP with every meticulously lit, Dutch-angled frame.
Yet no amount of pretty pictures could save a script this abysmally written. Stein has penned scene after scene after scene of nasty people talking circles around one another, no character defined by anything beyond their comic book-ready aesthetic. In fact, the plot is so non-existent that the final act of Terminal is (without exaggeration) twenty-plus minutes of Margot Robbie explaining her waitress/stripper/abused heart's revenge to all the men who surround her, cackling like some sort of lost Bond villain before dispensing with horror movie castrations and lobotomies. Robbie is putting in work trying to sell all of Stein's half-baked male fantasies, vamping it up and proving she's the born movie star we all know her to be. However, the actress is still no match for the sheer storytelling ineptitude on display; a bumbling, vacuous black hole of nothingness, here to do little more than gnaw at your precious time, the same way cancer eats at Pegg's nebbish English tutor's lungs.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to find that Terminal was actually shot in May of ‘16, screened at the Toronto International Film Festival that same year, then sat on a shelf until RLJ purchased the picture in January ‘18, after Robbie had battled her way to the top via a Martin Scorsese masterpiece, Suicide Squad (’16), and earned an Academy Award nomination with last year's I, Tonya. Had none of that happened, Stein's folly would've probably never seen the light of day, unless there was some contractual obligation to be fulfilled. This type of thing happens all the time: a below-average work is produced, and then only released to capitalize on the back of one of its principal player's hard work. This isn't a statement of shaming, just one of simple fact. Avoid Terminal like you would avoid anything that could possibly kill you, because it's only here to suck up a little bit of your life, before being forgotten forever.
Terminal is available now on VOD and in select theaters.