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There's a moment that typifies everything about Extraction so perfectly that I'm almost ashamed to mention it. In the film, a burly action throwback to the early '90s or late '80s, spiced up with contemporary digital post-production wizardry, the hero is an Australian mercenary named Tyler Rake. At one point in an early action scenes, he is killing dudes with the brutal efficiency that such a man must use to kill dudes, and this includes using items from the environment - and one of these items, which the movie proudly showcases in a loving close-up with a shallow depth of field, is a garden rake. And thus it is that Rake uses a rake as a weapon of death. So far, so much whatever, but here's the thing: Rake doesn't deliver some awful one-liner about raking after or during this sequence. Truth be told, I'm not even sure that he recognises that he and this tool share the same name.

Not that I require my action heroes to bark out puns like an irritating first-grader, but this one was right there, and the reason the filmmakers didn't grab for it was not, I gather, some kind of high-minded objection to dopey action movie quips: the screenwriter is Joe Russo one-half of the fraternal directing team behind Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, which means that his entire professional identity at this point is "Joss Whedon with less personality". Despite that pedigree, Extraction is an extraordinarily mirthless film, steadily refusing to ever joke or have fun or lighten up for a second, whether in the writing, the acting, or the visuals. I assume this is because Extraction is pretty clearly angling to scratch that John Wick itch, and while the people who put it together have correctly observed that Keanu Reeves never, ever cracks a smile in the John Wick movies, this is not because they are serious films.

Well, Extraction is serious as all hell, far too serious for a movie with a character named Tyler Rake, and definitely too serious for a movie with a character named Tyler Rake who is played by Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth's career has been pretty much right out in front of the whole world for about a decade now: that has given us all plenty of opportunities to figure out that he is a pretty fine, even very good actor when you give him lots of funny nonsense to do, and he is a pretty bad, even dreadful actor when you ask him to be serious. This is especially baffling for a film with Marvel Studios bonafides: besides Joe Russo - who also produces, along with his brother and fellow Avengers perpetrator Anthony - first-time director Sam Hargrave was a stunt coordinator for several MCU films (as well as Atomic Blonde, which is a disappointing thing to learn). The Marvel films, after all, were the first place that they figured out that Hemsworth is better being funny than not. But here we are, stuck with his scowling ass for 116 extremely glum minutes.

Rake, I said, is a mercenary; his present job is to find and rescue Ovi Mahajan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of an Indian drug kingpin, who has been kidnapped to Bangladesh. This causes Rake very little trouble, but protecting the boy is a bit thornier, and also gives Rake opportunities for "character development" as he recalls his own dead son. Mostly, of course, the point is to pit wave after wave of mooks against Rake, and allow him to find extremely brutal ways of dispatching them all. And grousing aside, I do appreciated an American action movie paring things down so close to the bone. We have morally grey good guy, an entire South Asia full of bad guys, and very little interest in complicating that at any level.

The result is basically just a chain of action sequences, and a few of them are decent. Hargrave is a stuntman, after all, and he and this film's own stunt team have assembled a nice array of gunfights, knife fights, jumping-across-the-rooftops, and people tucking and rolling out of high speed cars that then crash and explode (after having turned into a mindblowingly bad, weightless CGI blob). What Hargrave is not, unfortuantely, is a confident, intuitive, natural-born film director, and one does have to watch a lot of the stuntwork in Extraction through a kind of veil of ineffective camera set-ups and poor visual storytelling.

The biggest culprit is Hargrave's welcome but insufficiently worked-out impulse towards long takes. Or at least the illusion of long takes: the film's showpiece is an eleven-minute faked tracking shot in and out of buildings, falling to the ground, moving from fists to knives to what have you, all formed out fragments that have been digitally glued together fairly well. It's a pretty scrawny successor to the stitched-together stairwell fight in Atomic Blonde, and of course it doesn't hold up at all to actual long-take action, which isn't obliged to pace itself out with convenient whip pans and empty frames. For one thing, it comes much too early, ending around 45 minutes into the two-hour whole, which makes it hard not to feel like the movie peaks too soon. More ruinously, it's very stilted, visually: the fighting has been worked out but the camera movement really hasn't (or, at least, I really hope it hasn't), and Hargrave and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel spend far too much time maneuvering around the action rather than appreciating it. This happens, in a smaller way, throughout the movie: while Extraction has just the one eleven-minute take, it also has a nice number of much shorter but still unexpected long takes (I'm talking about things in the 15-30 second range, understand), suggesting that there's at least some understanding that we might want to appreciate the action rather than have it fly at us like a hailstorm. But that only takes you so far when the action hasn't been staged to look right in front of the camera, and for much of Extraction it hasn't. It has its moments of appealingly brutal spectacle, sure, but it's far too often a movie where you assume what the fighint is doing rather than actually see it happen.

The other veil cast over the proceedings is that this has, by a big ol' margin, the ugliest color grading I have seen in years. It's really quite astounding. The whole film is a grotesque, diseased shade of amber, looking like the camera lens was lightly glossed with muddy piss, and sometimes it is oppressively monochromatic. Given the lack of playfulness in the writing and in seeing Hemsworth try out his angry face for the whole movie, the last thing Extraction needed was to be drenched in murky, hostile yellows, making the whole movie feel dark and hot. And I guess feeling dark and hot is why they did it, but it's more than enough to make a movie that I wasn't really enjoying into one that was making me actively miserable.