A stellar cast is largely wasted in this routine post-9/11 espionage thriller that leans far too heavily on ticks taken from far better Hitchcock films. “Survivor” won’t have a long life in theatres, through it might hang on for a while on DVD and VOD on the strength of its stars, even if they’re not especially well used by writer-director James McTeigue.
Milla Jovovich is Kate Abbott, the recently-appointed head of visa security at the U.S. London embassy. Her interest is piqued by the application of Emil Balan (Roger Rees), a Romanian expatriate who claims to be traveling to the U.S. for a conference in pediatric medicine though he’s an expert in far more exotic fields. Only the intervention of her senior colleague Bill Talbot (Robert Forster), who’s concerned about processing applications quickly, and U.S. ambassador Maureen Cranepaul (Angela Bassett) speed the process against her wishes, though her boss, security chief Sam Parker (Dylan McDermott), supports her call.
It turns out, of course, that Kate’s hunch was right. Balan, who has reasons for hostility to America, is in league with a shadowy bunch of pharmaceutical folk to undertake a terrorist act on U.S. soil, and the conspirators enlist a stone-faced killer named Nash, also known by his nickname The Watchmaker (Pierce Brosnan), to deal with the troublesome Abbott. He plants a bomb in the restaurant where she and her staff of young visa agents are lunching, but she just happens to slip across the street to buy a gift when it explodes, leaving her slightly injured and everybody’s target. Nash is after her, of course, but so are British authorities in the person of Inspector Paul Anderson (James D’Arcy), not to mention Parker, though unlike many of his colleagues he’s convinced she’s being framed.
What follows is a long chase that mostly takes place on the streets of London but switches to New York City in the final reel. The template for Philip Shelby’s script is all too obviously Hitchcock’s “wrong man” thrillers, though it’s a “wrong woman” variant, and he and McTeigue are pretty shameless in ripping off classic sequences from them. A scene in a park that results in Kate’s being identified as a murderer is clearly patterned after the famous U.N. shooting in “North by Northwest,” and the final rooftop confrontation between Jovovich and Brosnan bears echoes of the Mount Rushmore climax of that film as well, though structurally it’s actually more indebted to the Statue of Liberty conclusion of “Saboteur.”
Setting aside the wisdom of the borrowings, however, which after all do invite invidious comparisons, and also the references to 9/11, which come off as rather crass plot devices, “Survivor” is a pretty weak genre entry, a chain of accidents, coincidences and hair’s-breadth escapes that grows more and more implausible as it rushes on, pushed forward not just by the plot but by Elan Eshkeri’s maddeningly propulsive synthesizer score. It must be said, though, that Kate Baird’s editing keeps the convolutions fairly clear (sometimes too much so, in fact, belaboring the obvious), and Danny Ruhlmann’s cinematography includes some nice shots of the London locations, though the interior work tends to dullness.
As to the cast, Jovovich shows her action-movie chops by dashing about even in shoes that don’t invite running. Brosnan doesn’t have an awful lot to do except look menacing by pursing his lips in an almost constant grimace. (The character of Nash can’t have inspired him much, since though the guy is described as the world’s best hitman, he’s singularly inept in this case. When he notices that Abbott has escaped his bomb, for example, he undertakes to shoot her on the spot, which would have immediately ruined his effort to disguise the fact that she was the target.) Everybody else goes through their paces decently, but none brings any special distinction to their stock roles—though it’s nice to encounter Frances de la Tour as Parker’s wheelchair-bound computer expert. It’s a clichéd part, but she manages to bring a touch of Le Carre to it.
Even for those who are devoted to espionage fiction—or who have a hankering to see Jovovich go through her physical exertions in modern clothes for a change—“Survivor” is likely to prove a grave disappointment.