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Anyone could be the turncoat in the too-twisty-by-half espionage thriller Unlocked

Photo: Lionsgate

Espionage thrillers traffic in uncertainty, but there’s a difference, for a spy, between wondering who you can trust and being surrounded by an all-star cast of potential turncoats. Unlocked stars Noomi Rapace as CIA agent Alice Racine, who’s been lying somewhat low after failing to prevent a terrorist attack in France. (Not a real one—this film has been on the shelf for a while, having wrapped principal photography almost a year prior to the Paris attacks of November 2015.) Asked to interrogate a high-value suspect, she soon discovers that the agency has been compromised, and that the information she’s extracted—benign in itself—will now be used to set another attack in motion. Who’s responsible? Is it the handler (Toni Collette, sporting an Annie Lennox ’do) who recruited her for the job? Is it the suspiciously suspicious bureau chief (John Malkovich)? Is it Racine’s semi-retired mentor (Michael Douglas)? Or is it the burglar (Orlando Bloom) who becomes her ally after she finds him robbing her London safe house?

Alas, Hercule Poirot doesn’t show up at the end to explain everything in methodical, Belgian-accented detail. Instead, Unlocked starts off sturdily and then wobbles more and more as the plot twists multiply. Director Michael Apted has plenty of experience in this arena, going all the way back to 1983's Gorky Park; his résumé even includes a Bond movie, albeit one of the weaker ones (The World Is Not Enough). He knows how to wring maximum tension from the early sequence in which Alice, taking a break mid-interrogation, receives a phone call assigning her the very job that she’s already nearly finished. Once Bloom shows up with his transparently bogus cover story, however, the movie becomes a relentless series of fake-outs and reversals, as if half a season of 24 had been compressed into under two hours. At one point, a significant character dies… but since this demise is implied rather than shown, it qualifies as a major retroactive surprise when (s)he fails to “unexpectedly” reappear later on. Whether that constitutes cleverness or ineptitude (or is merely a gaping wound from a scene that got cut) isn’t remotely clear.

As mediocre thrillers go, Unlocked at least remains lively, thanks in large part to its ludicrously overqualified cast. Rapace makes steely professionalism compelling, though she struggles a bit, as any actor would, with the hokey backstory—there’s really no need for Racine to be crippled by guilt, and her ostensible redemption arc barely registers. The supporting players, excepting Bloom (who seems perversely determined to annoy), provide welcome ballast. Malkovich, in particular, has enormous fun with his generic role, putting sarcastic spin on every line; a video conference between his chief and Collette’s operative, during which he can be seen alternately flipping her off and banging his head against the back of his chair when she’s out of camera range, briefly turns the film into a first-rate comedy. It’s arguably too funny, given the context, but at least nobody’s phoning it in. When you’re in the mood for some malarkey, make it committed malarkey. There’s plenty of that on view here.

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