The Screen Zealots would like to welcome Jay Tan as a guest critic.
After establishing himself so daringly by portraying such icons as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and T’Challa the Black Panther, actor Chadwick Boseman shines rather easily in “21 Bridges,” an otherwise generic and forgettable action-suspense cops-and-robbers story set in New York City.
The story is a race-against-the-clock overnight chase for two thieves-turned-cop-killers trying to escape off the island of Manhattan after a drug heist goes awry. Chadwick Boseman (“Black Panther” “42” “Marshall”) plays forensics supercop Andre Davis, a second-generation investigator known for a multitude of justified (if not dubious) fatal on-duty shootings. Boseman’s first scene as Davis establishes that he’s ice-cold in any remorse for his kills, all of which stand in procedural defiance of the internal affairs office. He’s also impeccable in reading the forensics of a crime scene to determine the how and why of what transpired. So when said drug heist turns into the murder of several fellow brothers-in-blue, there’s no better cop for the job than Andre Davis.
The title “21 Bridges” is a reference to all the roadways into Manhattan, which the Mayor’s office reluctantly shuts down in order to catch the killers. Davis is now against a ticking clock deadline of 7:00am, at which point the Mayor’s office will open the bridges and the killers will likely escape.
Once the chase is on, the story devolves into a generic and poorly-connected execution of cat-and-mouse, with Davis and the police inching closer to their targets (played by Stephen James (“If Beale Street Could Talk” “Selma”) and Taylor Kitsch (“American Assassin” “John Carter”)). However, story swerves (and character casualties) continue to get in the way, unconvincingly leading to a bigger picture storyline. Unfortunately, that secondary storyline picks up so far into the film that its execution is rushed and superficial.
The most indelible element to the film is perhaps the score, which, while forced and gratuitous, conjures a sense of suspenseful build-up and inflated surprise reveal, as if inspired by a Brian DePalma noir film. The music somewhat becomes a parody of itself in it’s overuse, but if there’s an aspect of this film that can be considered cinematically fun, perhaps this is it.
Since 2013’s “42,” Boseman proved his ability to deliver compelling performances in high profile movies that come with equally high historical expectations. Conversely, “21 Bridges” is a departure in film visibility or, frankly, acting requirements. Boseman himself does a fine job bringing great intensity and conviction in his scenes, but to see this star actor take on such a generic role seems like a wasteful test to determine if he can carry a film on his own star power.
Sienna Miller (“G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” “American Sniper”) plays a harried single-mother cop paired with Davis for the night, with J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash” “La La Land”) as her commending officer overseeing the case. Both deliver decent performances, with Miller’s thick New York accent and Simmons getting some meaty dialogue on behalf of the NYPD, but with little more character detail than “South Park” or “The Simpsons” animation, there is only so much for them to do on screen.
There is a police-sympathetic message here, and the argument isn’t presented unfairly in dialogue, although it also comes almost as an afterthought far too late to carry any weight. The chip on Andre Davis’ shoulder aligns with the underappreciated plight of policemen and women, taking on one of the toughest jobs in the world while underpaid and hated by the masses they’re assigned to protect. That said, no character in this film is likeable enough, not even Boseman, to sympathize with that social dilemma. Once this film’s story is fully told and the credits roll, perhaps this catch-22 that police forces in America face is the entire point. However, the world it paints seems more focused on entertaining with two hours of random gunplay and forced tension, rather than presenting a compelling argument for backing the blue.