Directed by Pierre Morel | Written by Jacob Lentz | ▲△△△△
John Cena has the world by the tail. He’s beloved by children and a feature performer in multiple big budget film franchises. With all his clout, why is this the material he signs onto? I could ask the same question of Alison Brie, who was terrific in the series GLOW and movies like Promising Young Woman, The Little Hours, and Sleeping With Other People. What is she doing running through the jungle in a tired retread of much better movies, a comedy action picture that’s never funny or thrilling?
Maybe it worked better on paper. Cena is a former special forces guy Mason Pettits who after a mission went bad and he fell out of a helicopter, moved back to the States to settle down in the suburbs with a beautiful wife (Alice Eve, also better than this material) and a cute kid, but he’s miserable. What he really wants is to go back to where he can shoot people. He doesn’t feel like a real man if he’s wearing a suit.
There’s plenty of juice in this scenario if the film had a brain in its head or the guts to give the audience the good times they’re looking for, satisfying a mostly male audience looking to see muscular and/or middle-aged men blow shit up. I don’t consider myself in that cohort, but even I liked Nobody. Instead, Freelance insists on making Mason sensitive and conflicted, with Cena mugging his way unconvincingly through the whole movie.
Remember Commando and its incredibly tight time frame combined with Arnie’s deadly one liners, or even The Rock in The Rundown? There’s even DNA here of a more complex but aesthetically similar picture, Romancing The Stone. Those films made the best of their heroes’ charm and physicality and the chemistry between the leads, but Morel, best known as the director of Taken, doesn’t know what he’s got.
The plot has Mason taking a job with a private security firm run by an army buddy, played by Christian Slater, who convinces as a mercenary. I wish the film was about him.
Slater’s company is trying to break into the war reporter protection biz — not a lot of future in that, lemme tell ya — so he sends Mason to watch over Alison Brie’s disgraced journo. She used to be an investigative type, but following a scandal these days has to suffer the shame of writing celebrity puff pieces, boo hoo. Now she’s got an exclusive interview with the dictator (Juan Pablo Raba) of a fictional South American nation, Paldonia — an interview she could’ve easily done on Zoom. Meanwhile, private interests (led by a very game Marton Csokas, the only one who got the memo what kind of movie he’s in) want him overthrown.
Freelance is a laugh desert — when you’ve got Cena yelling “embrace the suck” into Allison Brie’s face as they run from men with machine guns you know it’s bad. The action is also rote and tiresome — ye olde rocket launcher gonna make those SUVs jump up and flip over. You got anything else for us? Nope.
Naturally, sparks fly between Cena and Brie’s characters and spending time with them we want to see them hook up — but the movie doesn’t. Instead it wants Mason to get back with his wife — now that he’s shot his guns, which he didn’t seem to actually enjoy shooting — hi spirit is no longer broken and there’s still love between them. We do not care. This is abysmal.