If you’ve always believed that the climactic Mexican standoff in Reservoir Dogs should have been the whole movie, then you’ll love Free Fire. Director Ben Wheatley has given us an action movie that’s been stripped of distractions like plot, backstory, and character development and instead cuts right to an orgy of bullet-riddled mayhem and florid macho patter. It’s a four-course meal where every course is dessert.
Set in the peak-polyester ’70s, Free Fire takes place almost entirely in an abandoned Boston warehouse where two groups of inept, hotheaded hoods meet up for an arms deal. On the buyer’s side are Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley as IRA rebels; on the seller’s side is Sharlto Copley’s Vern, a comically clueless South African motormouth. In the middle, trying to keep the peace (without much luck), are Armie Hammer (bearded like a classics professor) and Brie Larson (the movie’s lone dose of estrogen and common sense).
Needless to say, the handoff doesn’t go as planned, and soon insults are flying, followed by hot lead. What ensues is an hour or so of ultraviolent slapstick, as a dozen or so characters all dig in for cover and squeeze off endless rounds of ammo punctuated by dialogue that’s reminiscent of Elmore Leonard in air quotes. It’s hard to take any of it seriously. Which is what makes it work as well as it does. (Hammer’s and Copley’s hilarious performances don’t hurt either.) Just imagine what an Itchy and Scratchy short directed by Sam Peckinpah would look like. That’s Free Fire.