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The new action-crime-comedy “Free Fire” is rated R — R as in ringing in your ears, the result of really repetitive gunfire.

And “Reservoir Dogs.”

We’ve heard this premise before: Two groups of not-so-nice guys, and one girl, meet for an arms deal at an abandoned factory.

It’s a cash-for-weapons swap that should go down smoothly but, as is often the case in movies, all goes terribly wrong.

The original part, courtesy of writer-director Ben Wheatley, a British filmmaker with a violent-crime bent to his indie-movie roots, is his injection of black comedy into the mix.

It’s very much as if he’s trying to make his Quentin Tarantino homage.

Especially to “Reservoir Dogs.” The result is at times amusing, chaotic, clever and frustrating. But not Tarantino.

But darned if he doesn’t at times come close to something special, like a kind of shaggy-dog crime flick with laughs that are just a bit too cutesy.

He does it with a good cast of risk-taking actors playing eclectic characters who deliver delicious lines like “You look like a nice girl ...” ahead of Brie Larson’s retort: “We can’t all be nice.”

That’s right, Oscar-winning best actress Larson (“Room” and “Kong: Skull Island”) is the girl among the guys, and she looks like she’s enjoying herself in a pulpy, shoot ‘em up kind of way.

There are so many cool customers in this movie that I just wish they didn’t always look so proud of their dialogue, which too often ruins the effect of intelligent insults and vivid threats.

Or when shooting at someone, or when being shot.

On one side, there’s the guys buying the guns, a rather motley Irish crew played by the likes of Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley, pretty perfect for this Boston-set tale.

Then there are the guys selling the guns, an even more colorful collection with Sharlto Copley playing a flashy, fast-talkng South African Brit who co-leads with Armie Hammer, portraying a well-tailored gentleman arms dealer with a wicked sense of humor unappreciated by the Irish gang.

Then there’s Larson as the go-between who knows both groups, and then there’s the odd coincidence between these strangers that sets off bullets flying everywhere.

I’ve never before recommended bringing ear plugs into a movie theater, but be warned: The film lives up to its name, as there are more shots fired during “Free Fire” than during your average war movie.

It’s essentially a one (large) room movie, with bullets ricocheting off concrete pillars and steel beams into shoulders and calves, ripping into non-fatal parts of bodies from, apparently, two gangs that couldn’t shoot straight.

Maybe it’s the comic retorts that affect their aim, or the mustaches that are as large as the collars in this 1970s-set story, which seems to be set in that era solely for the purpose of everyone getting to play dress-up and make fun of the fashions.

There are violent moments that resonate and inventive attempts to escape the darkness of this factory battlefield. There are unintended explosions (don’t shoot CO2 canisters), and there are people who unintentionally shoot members of their own gang, and sometimes intentionally.

In a movie that feels smart, funny and disappointing at the same time, everything just feels a little off in “Free Fire,” in which the jokes hit the target more than the bullets.

To an actor, everyone seems to be having too much fun making the movie.

Maybe everyone thought, “We’re making a Tarantino movie!” and that’s what caused them to come up short: They didn’t make their movie, and nobody else can make his movies.

Michael Smith


Twitter: @michaelsmithTW

This article originally ran on


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