‘Kandahar’ Review: Another Bland Bout from Butler

Sometimes, a movie is simply… fine.

“Kandahar” stars Gerard Butler as a military contractor who must make his way through enemy terrain in Afghanistan alongside his translator (Navid Negahban); Ric Roman Waugh directs.

Gerard Butler has seemingly tripped into the same “aging action star” role as Liam Neeson in recent years (not to call Butler old, he’s only 54), producing films such as the “Has Fallen” trilogy, “Den of Thieves,” and this year’s “Plane” (which wasn’t half-bad). I’m pretty agnostic to most of them (though I was pleasantly surprised at how effective his and Waugh’s last outing, “Greenland,” ended up being), but I go into each of these with an open mind and hope it’ll just be a fun shoot-em-up. And while “Kandahar” has fleeting moments of action and shady government ops, far too often it is a talky, convoluted mess that doesn’t reach the extraction point in one piece.

I think Gerard Butler is actually a pretty decent actor, his issue, like Tom Hardy and Vin Diesel (not to imply the three men possess equal levels of acting skill), is half the time I feel I need subtitles when he speaks through his thick Scottish accent. When he is audible, Butler does enough here to convey a worried but confident soldier (who of course has the obligatory strained homelife), and he has nice chemistry with Navid Negahban.

The action in the film is actually pretty inconsistent and fairly safe, an issue I took with Waugh’s “Angel Has Fallen.” There are some entertaining-enough shootouts and one admittedly badass standoff between Butler and our main baddie, Ali Fazal, but there are also some very dodgy special effects/explosions, and far too much time between bullets being fired.

The screenplay is a mess, jumping between CIA headquarters, Butler’s escaping, and Fazal speeding around the entire country of Afghanistan on a bike (he is never shown stopping to eat, sleep, or shower, but does get several opportunities to remove his helmet and run his hand through his luscious hair and show off for the camera). A lot of these scenes go nowhere, and ruin what could’ve been a straight-forward race-against-the-clock escape film.

There are fleeting moments where Waugh and screenwriter Mitchell LaFortune try to make the film into a commentary about the modern state of the Muslim faith, as well as critique America (and the world’s) involvement-and subsequent abandonment-in 21st century Middle Eastern affair. It is similar messaging to Guy Richie’s “The Covenant,” though for all that film’s flaws it does everything that “Kandhar” strives to do and be, but more effectively (the action, the commentary, the simultaneous praise for the soldiers and condemnation for the military industrial complex, etc).

“Kandahar” is, by definition, fine. It is a safe film that shouldn’t ruffle any feathers, though it will likely leave those looking for action wanting, and those who like their films to have narrative heft shaking their heads. It’s not the worst of these films that Butler has made, but I honestly can’t see a real reason to recommend you go out of your way to see it; just go find “The Covenant” instead.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Open Road

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