Super Bowl weekend is typically the softest box weekend of the year, and that is not expected to change this year. If January is a graveyard for unwanted movies, then Super Bowl weekend is an abandoned house on a dead-end road with a mysterious locked room in the basement and a garage full of nothing but rope and cyanide. Basically, releasing a movie in January is a half-hearted wish that it disappears quietly without too much notice, but releasing a movie on Super Bowl weekend is straight up murder. One of this year’s new Super Bowl weekend releases is The Rhythm Section, starring Blake Lively. It does not deserve to be murdered like this.
I embrace Blake Lively, B-Movie Queen, and The Rhythm Section is a solid B-movie, a spy thriller that is mostly okay but a little bit wonky and entirely anchored by Lively’s performance as Stephanie, an unlikely assassin. Adapted for the screen by Mark Burnell from his own novel, and directed by Reed Morano (most known for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale), The Rhythm Section is the kind of plot-driven spy thriller that doesn’t really make sense, but it hangs together just well enough to not be distracting. There’s a bit too much “fast travel”, where characters arrive at conclusions without the story actually seeding the information they need to get there, but it’s not so egregious it takes you out of the moment. The Rhythm Section gets through its own rough patches much as movies like Road House and Point Break do, by muscling through the inconsistencies and logical failings with action and a compelling lead performance.
Which is not to say that Lively’s performance is good—in places, it is very bad—but she is always watchable in a series of dreadful wigs (Moira Rose would NOT approve) as Stephanie, a woman whose life goes to sh-t after her family members are all killed in a plane crash. Alone in the world, Stephanie falls down a terrible cliché hole, dropping out of school, getting hooked on drugs, and apparently forced into sex work in order to support that habit. In this portion of the movie, Lively’s performance is, how do I put this…like an SNL performer pretending to be in a Lifetime movie about runaway teens. Every choice is exaggerated and obvious in a way that seems parodical. But then a series of events leads Stephanie to B (Jude Law), a mysterious spy-type hiding out in the wilds of Scotland. B has information about the plane crash that killed Stephanie’s family that sends Stephanie on a journey to become an assassin to get revenge. Fortunately, the further into her new assassin life Stephanie gets, the better Lively’s performance becomes. (Between this and A Simple Favor, she is best suited to playing characters who are cool, calm, and controlling.)
One of the best elements of The Rhythm Section is Reed Morano’s decision to shoot every action sequence like a car crash—this is not the stylized, precisely choreographed action of John Wick or Atomic Blonde, or even D-movie glop like Anna. Morano shoots every fight to highlight the chaos and disorientation of being in a fight, and that dizzying style also works to demonstrate how bad at assassinating Stephanie is. She is AWFUL at the fighting part of this job, and I appreciate an action movie built around a bad fighter. Stephanie never becomes a competent fighter, and only gets decent at assassinating when she leans into her own strengths and stops taking B’s orders.
It’s not that The Rhythm Section is a great movie, it’s not, it’s just a serviceable B-movie. But it claims its own space with its ugly-on-purpose action, Lively’s slightly bonkers performance, and it definitely deserves better than being taken to the woodshed on Super Bowl weekend. With the right roll out, this could launch a franchise, or at least a sequel. But instead it’s being chucked out the window of a speeding car by its producers like they’re ashamed to be seen with it. (The producers include Barbara Broccoli, who wants more original stories for women, but apparently doesn’t want to provide any support to those stories, given the way this one is being abandoned.) Still, The Rhythm Section is a serviceable spy thriller and another solid B-movie outing for Blake Lively.