Plot: lone officer stands between terrorists and apocalyptic annihilation.
Interceptor makes exactly zero qualms about what it is. Described by director Matthew Reilly as a throwback to the late 1980s/early 1990s American action movie Interceptor replaces the retrograde and regressive machismo of the 1980s with progressive and socially conscious (or woke, a pejorative to some) sensibilities of the current day. Savaged by critics and review-bombed into oblivion by irate legions of anti-SJW hordes for all the obvious and not-so obvious reasons the dour reputation Interceptor has managed to garner in record time is entirely (and richly) deserved. Expelled from Hollywood's ever-shriveling creative colon to little fanfare and even littler positive press Interceptor makes Gods Of Egypt (2016) look sophisticated. Contra rationem and all expectations it clocked in a mind boggling 50 million hours viewed almost overnight. Netflix, understandably, immediately greenlit a sequel. Meanwhile, Netflix remains ever silent on long overdue sequels to BuyBust (2018), Furie (2019) and Maria (2019).
A labor of love on part of director Matthew Reilly, producer/writer Stuart Beattie and actor Chris Hemsworth (who executive produced and cameos) Interceptor is as blatant, obvious and naked a homage as, say, Blast (1997). At the very least this one has its heart in the right place as it liberally borrows the central premise (and entire scenes) from Die Hard (1988), the military setting of Under Siege (1992) while lifting a crucial plotpoint wholesale from The Rock (1996). Filmed over a brief 33 days in New South Wales, Australia on a modest budget of just $15 million Hemsworth installed his wife Elsa Pataky as the lead (Netflix would probably have gone with Katee Sackhoff) and was able to attract action director/choreographer Sam Hargrave to the project. And just like Vincenzo Natali’s infinitely superior Cube (1997) everything was filmed on a single set. Needless to say Interceptor often looks like a videogame due to an overabundance of blue/green screen composition and digital post-production effects. Lest there be any doubt, this is a low to mid-budget action movie on a tried-and-true formula; one that Hawaiian trash specialist Albert Pyun and Cirio H. Santiago perfected several decades ago.
Reassigned to a remote interceptor launch site somewhere in the Pacific Ocean after the conclusion a high-profile and much-publicized case of sexual misconduct by a five-star general (Kim Knuckey) disgraced captain J. J. Collins (Elsa Pataky) is deployed to be less of a nuisance to the top military brass. After being welcomed aboard and briefed by captain John Welsh (Paul Caesar) J. J. is given her chambers while lieutenant colonel Clark Marshall (Rhys Muldoon) takes the time introduce her team in the command center: signal analyst corporal Rahul Shah (Mayen Mehta) and outwardly bigot corporal Beaver Baker (Aaron Glenane). When she lays eyes upon former military intelligence officer Alexander Kessel (Luke Bracey) and Fort Greely in Alaska is overtaken by enemy forces and 16 nuclear warheads are simultaneously seized from Russia she senses something is afoot. Her worst fears are confirmed when Kessel hijacks the platform and Beaver is revealed to be the traitor in their midst. Kessel threatens to annihilate 16 American cities if his demands are not met. Collins first tries to reason with Kessel but when he sends in his goons and second-in-command Kira (Ingrid Kleinig) to kill her, all bets are off. With the warheads set to deploy in 12 minutes, Collins wages a desperate war of attrition to avoid a mass nuclear holocaust.
JJ strips down to a white wifebeater just like John McClane in Die Hard (1988) and like Casey Ryback in Under Siege (1992) she too is a disgraced military operative. Kessel’s threat of nuclear annihilation is identical to that of Francis X. Hummel in The Rock (1996) and Beaver’s ultimate demise echoes that of Karl in Die Hard (1988) and that of a Russian heavy enemy combatant in Rambo III (1988). As a nostalgia throwback this ticks all the required boxes without any grave deviations from the established genre conventions. It’s the sort of thing that Steven Seagal used to make a living at before he descended into direct-to-streaming hell. From the opening scene the plot unfolds exactly the way you think it will and every character conforms to its designated archetype. Naturally there are no real surprises at any point. History seems to be repeating itself as Interceptor is exactly the kind of thing that production companies and distributors shat onto the booming home video market 40 years ago, except now it’s Netflix dumping it unceremoniously onto its once-leading streaming service. If this is any indication of the quality in the future of the service it looks like their best days are now well and truly behind them. Netflix once was better than this.
Not too make too much of a point of it but everything is a bit rough around the edges here. For one the choreography and direction is a lot more fluent and graceful than usual in American action, but it’s still far too clunky and brawly. Pataky does the best with what she’s given and there’s an absolute minimum of cutting during the routines. Can Sandra Escacena, Nicole Bilderback, Ella Hunt or Analyn Barro finally get their big action movie now? The edgy writing is about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the temple (or groin) as it duly checks off just about every hot-button issue and controversial political event. It’s all here: #MeToo, the American elections, Russian nuclear armageddon, bigotry, willfull ignorance in the Information Age and right-wing grifters and conspiracy theories. No wonder the MAGA blockheads and anti-SJW crowds went absolutely ape-shit over this. The proselytizing is so much on the nose that it borders on shit-posting. While we’re sympathetic (and very much in favor) of the politics that Interceptor espouses there are more elegant and subtle ways of doing this sort of thing. Pataky’s thick native Spanish inflection occassionally makes her unintelligible and in the tenser scenes Bracey will regress, wittingly or otherwise, back to his Oz accent. Considering the brutally unnatural circumstances under which was filmed, it isn’t half bad. The special effects are a mix of practical and digital which is admirable in and of itself.
What there’s to say about what basically amounts to a direct-to-video mid-budget actioner that’s utilitarian and by the numbers? Well, that. Interceptor is utilitarian and by the numbers. Not once is Interceptor touched by the sacred flame of inspiration. There’s something admirable about doing on a feature on one location and when in the third act JJ does finally break out of the bridge/command center and ventures to the exterior of the platform, it makes you wonder why Reilly didn’t use it more. In Die Hard (1988) and Under Siege (1992) every enemy kill represented a milestone within the larger story. Not so here. While the initial kill of Machale is at least halfway promising the rest of the goons are uneventfully and matter-of-factly killed in close-quarter combat. JJ’s facing off with Kira and finally Kessel feels so underwhelming that it makes you wonder why these two were made out to be supposed formidable adversaries. And that’s the thing with Interceptor. It’s good for what it is, but it never aspires to be anything more than a sum of its parts. Perhaps the proposed sequel will build on what’s set up here – but as a stand-alone feature it leaves something to be desired. Time will tell whether Interceptor will be remembered as the surprise hit of 2022.