Written by: Patrick Howard | December 6th, 2023
Fast Charlie (Phillip Noyce, 2023) 1½ out of 4 stars.
The archetype of the hitman is experiencing a lucrative Hollywood renaissance. The fourth installment in the John Wick action series was released this spring and was met with a generous flow of critical and commercial success. There are many reasons behind this box-office triumph, but the one that stands out the most is the choice to add complex, corporate-level machinations to these hitman-centric worlds.
Fast Charlie, directed by Phillip Noyce (The Desperate Hour), is the newest hitman thriller that attempts to stand out among its peers, stunt-casting Pierce Brosnan (Cinderella), a past and beloved James Bond, as Charlie, the fixer for the mob scene of the Deep South. Charlie is no stranger to handling a problem that is disrupting the flow of business for his mob boss, played by the late James Caan (Undercover Grandpa). The hit job that starts the story goes awry and Charlie then finds himself at the mercy of an up-and-coming mobster, played by Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Sun Is Also a Star), and the ex-wife of the intended target, played by Morena Baccarin (Greenland), who is trying to start a new life as far away from organized crime as possible.
The truly frustrating thing about Fast Charlie is that it contains a couple nuggets of cleverness and likeable characters that have to be sifted through several layers of listless direction and screenwriting. It’s hard to say where Phillip Noyce and his efforts as an action director stack up to modern day standards and sensibilities, but I like to think a hitman story, from the director of Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, would promise a decent amount of pulse-pounding entertainment. Much like a great actor with a shoddy line of dialogue, a great director can take a mediocre script and breathe so much life and style into it that any obvious problems zoom past you like mangled roadkill on a long stretching highway.
However, this scenario is cherished so much because the real-life examples can barely be counted on one hand. Phillip Noyce’s directorial efforts are only as capable as the script work he has to visually translate to the screen. Richard Wenk (The Protégé) deftly sprinkles his script for Fast Charlie with moments that treat the violent acts of the hitman world with a humorously dark level of indifference. Most folks would see these moments of exploding heads, people dying from poor gun safety, or dead bodies wrapped in plastic for disposal as unbelievably traumatic, but not to Brosnan’s Charlie. These scenes are as expected as a cubicle drone attending a meeting that could’ve been an email.
The screenplay lacks clarity and a strong foundation for a majority of the character relationships. Despite the exorbitant amount of plotting that happens, you feel like you’re shadowing Charlie for the day and he refuses to answer your many reasonable questions. The desire isn’t for deep and enriching character development but for development that keeps the audience in step with the characters. Someone like Gbenga Akinnagbe’s mobster Beggar is angry and frustrated with James Caan’s mob boss Stan, but we, the audience, are not allowed to see that dynamic explored before an inciting incident shifts the story in a whole new direction; a shift that happens so suddenly, you’d swear there were one or two crucial scenes cut out for time.
I couldn’t help but daydream what other visual formats would suit these characters and their world better. Perhaps a 10-episode show on Hulu or Max that follows Charlie as he fixes one botched hit job after another. These fleeting moments of snickering, genuine chemistry between Brosnan and Baccarin, and my wondering mind left me wanting so much from Fast Charlie.