Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Numbers Station

John Cusack seems better suited for lighter fare like HOT TUB TIME MACHINE than this morose little-seen thriller that plays like a less absorbing THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and a less exciting ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. He probably could have Paul Rudd’s career if he wanted to, but maybe not smiling pays better.

At any rate, THE NUMBERS STATION saddles Cusack with the character name Emerson Kent and a sidekick in Malin Akerman (WATCHMEN) with whom he shares no chemistry. Kent is a burned-out CIA assassin sentenced to monitor duty—three days on, three days off—at an empty Naval base in Suffolk, England. His job is to protect cryptologist Katherine (Akerman), who shortwaves coded messages to CIA operatives in Europe. It’s boring duty that gives him plenty of time to flashback to the botched assignment that got him there.

Two months into the assignment, Kent and Katherine show up for work and are attacked by enemies who have breached the code and sent messages to “retire” fifteen American agents. While the mainly faceless foes try to drill through the heavy door separating the two sides, Kent has to figure out how to reverse the assassination order and, hopefully, save their own lives. Would you believe he slowly walks away from an exploding fireball?

Filmed in cold blue lighting on depressingly drab sets, THE NUMBERS STATION is an uninteresting two-hander with little of interest to say. F. Scott Frazier’s plotting reveals no major surprises, and his characters are right out of Bad Spy Movie 101. The story is basically a simple one, but director Kasper Barfoed makes it needlessly complex with flashbacks, babble about ciphers, and too many shots of people typing on keyboards. He also fails the basic task of familiarizing the audience with the film’s basic setting, so that when characters are running from room to room, we have an idea of where everyone is. With as much time as the movie spends in the bunker (virtually all of it), Barfoed should have made it a main character.

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