Gerard Butler is a spy on the run with his interpreter in Ric Roman Waugh’s Kandahar. Butler’s recent every-man action star winning streak hits a speed bump in this entertaining but familiar and predictable chase flick. Universal dishes out a suitable Blu-ray release offering up a decent A/V presentation but void of any extras. If you need diverting if unmemorable entertainment this fits the bill. Worth A Look
There’s a method to the madness that makes a great chase movie. In the strictest sense, it’s “Get characters from Point A to Point B” and have them avoid the deadly obstacles in between. It’s that gray area of “obstacles” that can muddy the waters a bit. Sometimes there doesn’t even need to be a Point B so long as our heroes are moving and out-maneuvering the villain. The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Mad Max: Fury Road, Apocalypto, Duel, the list of great chase movies is a long one, but even longer is the list of mediocre-to-bad chase movies where the setup is there, but the middle guts never quite come together. Sadly Gerard Butler and Ric Roman Waugh’s latest adventure Kandahar falls in that latter category.
International man of mystery Tom Harris (Leonidas) just completed a mission posing as a Swiss telecom company wiring in new high-speed internet lines to Iran. His target was to implant a bug into the wiring so the CIA could permanently disrupt a nearby nuclear facility’s capacity to enrich uranium. Mission complete, he’s ready to tackle one more mission and go home, but thanks to a mole in the CIA, reporter Luna Cujai (Nina Toussaint-White) has obtained sensitive documents about the mission. When those details are broadcast across the globe on every major news network, Tom’s cover is blown. In less than forty hours, Tom and his interpreter ‘Mo’ (Navid Negahban) must travel 400 miles to a rescue flight that will be on the ground for less than a minute with every mercenary and assassin hot on their heels.
Hangup one for Kandahar hits early and that has more to do with poor timing. This film is nuts and bolts nearly the same flick as Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant - which I conveniently saw just a couple of days before viewing this film. “Soldier X partners with interpreter to get across country under fire - GO!” Kandahar is “Spy X partners with interpreter to get across country under fire - GO!” So familiarity with another film is hangup number one.
Hangup number two for me is this film just doesn’t do anything interesting with its time. I hadn’t seen the trailer before going in so I was as cold as could be, but as soon as Gerard Butler’s Tom Harris is revealed (which is pretty much right away), I knew exactly where it was going to go. You could practically have Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman play-call the pregame and this screenplay by Mitchel Lafortune wouldn’t deviate a beat.
Hangup number three, which kind of hurts to report given recent efforts, but I didn’t feel Butler brought anything to the role. Plane, Waugh’s own Greenland, Copshop, and even Last Seen Alive felt like great turns for the Scottish actor. Rather than trying to be the next big beefy action star, Butler found fun characters that fit his more every-man persona. His Tom Harris could have been played by virtually any actor and it wouldn’t have mattered a lick. There are efforts to humanize him as a man with an estranged family doing “just one more mission,” but even that cliche doesn’t stick well.
Through the heaps of familiar plot points, character setups, and action setpieces, I did think the film was entertaining, just not amazing. As I said, Kandahar isn’t going to win points for originality, but I admit I was interested, invested, and ultimately entertained with the venture. The interplay between Butler and Negahban is the biggest strong point of the film and helped it salvage any sense of urgency. I’ll say The Covenant did a better job with the concept, but if you’re aiming for some easy entertainment this should hold your attention. Just don’t expect to remember much when it’s all over.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Universal delivers Kandahar to Blu-ray as a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital release. Pressed on a BD-50 disc, the two discs are housed in a standard sturdy two-disc case and are not stacked. Also comes with a slipcover. The disc loads to a static image main menu with basic navigation options.
Kandahar is off to the races with a solid enough 1080p 2.39:1 transfer. Shot digitally, the details are impressive letting you fully appreciate every little follicle of facial hair on each cast member. There are a lot of beards in this movie! But details in production design, costuming, and various Saudi Arabia shooting locations all look impressive. As a whole the film has a warmer orange/brown/yellow vibe to the color timing, but key primaries have plenty of pop with skin shades looking appropriately healthy. Black levels and shadows are strong, but I felt like some shadowy interiors could look rather flat. Why is every CIA ops room so damn dark in these movies nowadays? Just turn on a light - the switch is right there on the wall! I also felt like there was a bit of video noise in these darker scenes that wasn’t nearly as noticeable in brightly - even adequately - lit locations. As a whole, it’s a solid transfer but not altogether eye-grabbing either.
Audio on this adventure runs with a respectable DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. I was most impressed but the immersive soundscape defining each location. From that dark-ass CIA opps center to the bright streets on the ground to the lux apartment of Harris’ handler, each location had a distinct and interesting sound design that smartly used the side and rear channels. Action beats obviously get a lot of attention with full channel appointment and plenty of LFE for oomph and impact without screwing over dialog. With that all in mind, it does sound rather small scale in 5.1. Using my receiver’s DTS Neural:X function the film really opened up and felt much more lively. So I can only guess what a bigger more dynamic mix like Atmos could have brought to the show. As it stands, it gets the job done nicely.
As far as middling predictable action movies go, Kandahar isn’t the worst or best but still pretty good. I mean, if you want a better version of practically the same story, check out The Covenant. I was hoping this would have been better given Butler’s more recent action output, but this is perfectly serviceable if unmemorable entertainment. On Blu-ray, the film scores a respectable A/V presentation with a nice sharp and clear picture and an engaging audio mix. Bonus features simply don’t even exist. Not a terrible movie by any stretch, but this one didn’t hook me like Plane or other recent Butler outings. Worth A Look