A State Department employee newly posted to the American embassy in London is charged with stopping terrorists from getting into the U.S. That puts her right in the line of fire and she is targeted for death and framed for crimes. Discredited, she is forced to go on the run while she tries to clear her name and stop a large-scale terrorist attack set for New Year’s Eve in Times Square. ames McTeigue’s new movie, Survivor, is very much a post-9/11 film. It not only operates in the world of terrorism and counter-terrorism, but trades on images of that particular day. Some of these moments in the movie are strong and powerful, but all too often they fall flat.
The tale finds Milla Jovovich playing Kate Abbott, a US Government employee at the embassy in London who has been tasked with sniffing out a possible threat against the States. We know Abbott is good at her job because we are told that she was very successful ferretting out another terrorist plot. In London, though, she instantly runs into trouble when several of her various bosses don’t like the way she handles things.
Survivor then swiftly moves into a woman on the run tale, where Abbott is the only person out there fighting to stop an horrific plot and her bosses at the embassy are either involved, incompetent, or two steps behind. Naturally, Abbott is discredited and believed to be dirty (mostly because she was in a location where a bomb went off, wasn’t killed, and then disappeared).
It is all exceptionally silly and wholly outlandish, and there are moments when the movie almost recognizes this. Dylan McDermott plays one of Abbott’s embassy bosses (two steps behind, not
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incompetent nor evil), and there is a scene where he points out to everyone at the embassy that they have suddenly dismissed all Abbott’s past successes in deciding she’s the bad guy. It feels less like a character talking to someone else in the film and much more like the audience yelling at the screen.
Sadly, McDermott’s character fails in his attempt to stop the movie from going off the rails and does so because he has to – Survivor would instantly come crashing down if anyone at the embassy listened to him. Rather than rerouting itself to a more sane, believable story, the film continues careening down a ludicrous track.
There are moments in the movie where a single phone call could put an end to the terrorist plot, the sort of phone calls that are probably made everyday (e.g. flagging someone’s passport so that they get questioned upon arrival in the US). However, as Abbott is perceived as dirty, the calls don’t get made and things progress towards their predictable ending.
Jovovich is generally solid in the role, and it’s great to see a heroine at the center of the film trying to save the world, but she is hurt by the fact that Survivor never seems quite sure of her history or skills. There are moments when she is wholly unaware of protocol and acts like an espionage neophyte (one who has never even seen a spy movie), and others where she is a seasoned pro.