Producer: Tyler W. Kenney   Director: Grant S. Johnson   Screenplay: Mike Langer and Tyler W. Kenney   Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Adam Canto, Katie Cassidy, Annie Ilonzeh, Rhys Coiro, Barkhad Abdi, Jason Isaacs and Mel Gibson   Distributor: Saban Films

Grade: D-

At the start of Grant S. Johnson’s time-shifting spy thriller, we see Mel Gibson, wearing a raincoat, suddenly spring up from the bench he’s sitting on, fire a few shots at something or someone off screen, and then take out a cellphone into which he bellows, “We have a problem.”  The same scene is repeated, with some embellishment, at the end of the picture.  What his character means by this is immaterial; the real problem here is the movie’s script, a deliberately opaque and confusing piece of work that, in the end, amounts to remarkably little.  “Agent Game” proves to be the equivalent of a long, tedious game of chess that could have been resolved with a single move at the beginning.

For Gibson, though, that outside scene must have been a welcome relief, because for most of the movie he’s confined to an office, where he’s shown either interviewing candidates for some undercover work, or barking orders into a phone on his desk.  It’s hardly a taxing role, and the dialogue he gruffly delivers is pretty purple stuff.  He’s notable mostly for his sneer.

Until the last act, which features lots of running, shooting and explosions, the other characters are generally limited to confined spaces too, though different ones.  On the one hand, we have veteran CIA men Harris (Delmot Mulroney) and Bill (Jason Isaacs) somewhere in Eastern Europe overseeing the interrogation of a prisoner named Omar (Arkhad Abdi), who, they claim, has been receiving funds from terrorist-related individuals for his movement to remove the dictator of an unnamed country.  Hung up in an uncomfortable pose, Omar claims not to know the contributors at all, and protests his innocence.  Playing good cop in contrast to Bill’s harsh one is Visser (Annie Ilonzeh), who unbeknownst to her older colleagues is connected to Olsen (Gibson), a mysterious fellow pulling everyone’s strings.  As the questioning grows tenser, Bill and Harris start to have doubts about the operation, and Visser’s impetuosity sends their concern to another level.

In Belgium, we find Kavinsky (Adan Canto), Miller (Katia Cassidy) and Reese (Rhys Coiro).  All are outsiders recruited by Olsen—we see their interviews with him—for an extraction job, which they execute, bringing their captive with a hood over his head to the plane in which they’ll all travel to an appointed destination.  But in mid-flight the plane begins descending unexpectedly, and cryptic messages lead the three to question what they’ve gotten themselves into.  Eventually they decide to consult with their hostage, who turns out to be…

No fair telling, but suffice it to say the revelation is unlikely to shock you.

“Agent Game” tries to generate suspense by keeping us in the dark about when and where events are happening, but the device mistakes suspense for confusion.  Everything turns out to be interrelated, with Olsen at the center of the wheel of misfortune.  But the intricacy proves to be mere camouflage: when the purpose behind it all is finally disclosed, your reaction is likely to be that the result could have been achieved much more simply, and efficiently, by a more direct approach.  That feeling is reinforced by the closing amplification of the opening scene, which proves that for all the supposedly clever planning, the operation didn’t work as it was supposed to.  (It also leaves room for a sequel, which one can be sure won’t happen.)

Apart from Isaacs, the cast brings little urgency to their roles, except for Gibson, whose effort to convey cool malevolence is likely to elicit more giggles than shivers.  Coiro is meant to provide some comic relief, but stumbles at the task.  On the technical side, the Georgia-shot production is mediocre, with the production design (Scott Daniel), cinematography (David Kruta), editing (Charlie Porter) and score (Kiley Norton) all unremarkable. 

Near the close of “Agent Game,” Gibson’s character greedily bites into a barbecue sandwich, shouting “Here’s to cardiac arrest!”  It’s pretty certain this complex but dull wannabe thriller will not quicken your pulse rate.