Freelance brings together director Pierre Morel, stars John Cena and Alison Brie, and the action-comedy genre for what seems like a can’t-miss cinematic adventure. But this judgment is far from final. The film follows former special forces operative Mason Pettits (Cena) as he reluctantly takes a private security gig protecting washed-up journalist Claire Wellington (Brie). She needs safe passage for an interview with the ruthless dictator of the fictional South American nation of Paldonia. So far, so good.
On paper, Freelance has all the ingredients for a rollicking good time reminiscent of rom-com adventures like Romancing the Stone. You’ve got the bulging brawn of pro-wrestler turned actor John Cena paired with the endless charisma of Alison Brie. The exotic locale of a tropical country promises action movie thrills and spills. And director Pierre Morel has proven his action chops with films like Taken.
Unfortunately, the final product fails to live up to its promising potential. The action falls flat, the comedy falls flatter, and any romantic chemistry fizzles out completely. The political intrigue meant to ground the plot comes across as a disjointed afterthought. In other words, Freelance makes big promises it can’t deliver on. But the ultimate jury is still out until viewers stream the film on VOD and judge the case for themselves. Will they find Freelance guilty of inadequately executing its genre, or will they show some leniency for its shortcomings? The prosecution and defense both rest their case.
Diamond in the Rough
Despite Freelance’s overall blandness, a few glimmers of potential poke through like rays of sunlight on a cloudy day. First and foremost is the natural charisma of stars John Cena and Alison Brie. Both have honed comedic skills and likable screen presence through years of acting experience, from Cena’s wrestling antics to Brie’s breakthrough on Community. They bring an effortless charm to otherwise mediocre material.
In one standout scene, Cena and Brie improvise humorous dialogue while awkwardly covering up their naked bodies after outdoor showers. Their comedic timing and expressiveness shine through the juvenile writing. Brie in particular squeezes hearty laughs from ridiculous lines no human should be able to deliver believably. Her eyes alone convey entire paragraphs of sarcasm.
Beyond the cast’s saving graces, Freelance includes glimmers of sharp political commentary rarely found in the genre. Rather than relying on tired stereotypes, it explores the nuances of South American dictatorships, imperialist intervention, and corporate exploitation. The fictional country provides a thought-provoking lens for such themes.
While never fully realized, this serious undertone shows potential for elevating popcorn action-comedies. Surprisingly, a film like Freelance even attempts more layered political ideas alongside its buddy comedy bromance and CGI explosions. Whether successfully or not, the effort is admirable.
Finally, director Pierre Morel flexes his action filmmaking muscles with crunchy helicopter crashes and combative shootouts. One prolonged vehicle chase demonstrates his grasp of spatial choreography and kinetic camerawork missing from other scenes. When focused on adrenaline-pumping action, a flicker of his Taken magic emerges.
So perhaps all hope is not lost for Freelance. The cast’s contagious charisma, flashes of sociopolitical commentary, and glimpses of directorial flair suggest a film still rough around the edges but containing some diamonds in the rough. While too few to make the film shine as a whole, these glimmers indicate a redeeming potential that never fully surfaces.
Unfortunately, Freelance buries its flecks of value under a mountain of lackluster execution. This action-comedy misfires on nearly every cylinder, squandering its elements of potential.
The half-baked buddy comedy lands with a thud, lacking believable rapport between leads Cena and Brie. Their shaky chemistry fails to generate the playful sparks needed to sell their budding attraction and camaraderie. Forced flirtations and stilted banter make their dynamic cringeworthy rather than cute.
Attempted humor also falls flat, relying on lame inside jokes about Cena’s height and character name. These groan-worthy gags feel like cardboard cutouts of actual comedy. Even the cast’s charisma can’t salvage the juvenile writing. Silly for silly’s sake replaces sharp wit, making the tone feel muddled.
More frustratingly, political themes meant to ground the absurd plot are slapped together haphazardly. Provocative commentary about military intervention and corporate greed comes across disjointed and shallow amidst goofy action. Weighty themes deserve more nuance than this script’s superficial lip service.
World-building proves equally as lazy. The fictional South American country serves as an indistinct backdrop, devoid of tangible culture or identity. It could take place anywhere without consequence to the story, making the setting feel inconsequential.
Action sequences similarly lack impact, coming across as blandly routine. Eye-catching stunt work is obscured by choppy editing and overuse of cheap CGI effects. The visual monotony makes potentially exciting set pieces fall flat.
These directorial shortcomings extend to the film’s flat cinematography overall. Underwhelming green screen vistas and obvious stunt doubles give the production a cheap B-movie feel. Suspension of disbelief becomes impossible when the seams show so glaringly.
For all its pre-release promises, Freelance bungles nearly every essential ingredient. Its stars’ shine is dulled by disappointing writing and execution. Nuanced themes are muddied by misguided comedy. Any flickers of inspiration are swallowed in monotony. Rather than bringing its pieces together harmoniously, Freelance haphazardly digs itself into a hole. A few specks of gold glint within its drabness, but not enough to offset the deficiencies weighing down this action-comedy dud.
An Ugly Mess
As if the lackluster comedy, action, and world-building weren’t bad enough, Freelance stoops to some downright ugly lows in its execution. From objectifying female characters to discarding major plot points, the film borders on outright incompetence.
The misguided romance subplot exemplifies the film’s ugliest tendencies. Chemistry-free flirtations between Cena and Brie feel particularly creepy when Brie’s journalist Claire blatantly objectifies herself to score an interview. Their sudden attraction comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, underscoring the film’s issues with female representation.
Alice Eve suffers a similarly thankless role as wife discarded in service of male escapism. The script reduces both women to damsels and sex objects rather than fully realized characters. Their motivations and backstories receive no meaningful attention.
This deficiency of dimensional characterization plagues even the male protagonists. Cena spouts clunky exposition about his traumatic backstory, but without convincing emotional weight. The same goes for Raba’s dictator character, whose charm offensive fails to balance his villainy.
In fact, major plot turns rely on clumsy dialogue to crash forward. Characters explicitly state their emotions and motivations rather than demonstrating them naturally. When Cena abruptly decides he still loves his wife, it comes as jarring news since no chemistry sold that relationship either.
Perhaps worst of all, significant plot threads build up without narrative payoff. Cena’s PTSD from combat trauma motivates his initial career change, then disappears. Chekhov’s guns litter the set waiting futilely for the third act.
All this narrative clutter contributes to the film’s messy, disjointed tone. Attempts at light buddy comedy stick out like a sore thumb alongside heavier themes of politics and trauma. Tonal whiplash gives the film an unmistakable aura of ugliness.
Visually, cheap effects do no favors for immersion. Obvious green screens and digital blood make action scenes play like a low-budget videogame cutscene. They constantly distract from any urgent momentum the story hopes to build. At times the artificiality becomes unintentionally humorous, as when a laughable explosion sets back the entire coup.
Chalk it up to directorial laziness or budgetary constraints, but the hackneyed visuals degrade the viewing experience. Alongside narrative shortcuts and haphazard tone, they turn Freelance into an ugly patchwork barely held together by Hollywood bubblegum and duct tape. It manages to insult the audience’s intelligence while boring them silly. An ugly waste of resources all around.
A Wasted Opportunity
When the dust settles on Freelance’s missteps, what’s left is a resounding sense of wasted potential. Morel and company seem to have phoned this one in, squandering promising ingredients for an action-comedy souffle that never rises.
The end result feels like a half-baked first draft at best. The bare bones of a serviceable premise are there, but the connective tissue falls painfully short. No cohesive voice or personality emerges from the genre hodgepodge. It’s less a movie than a dressed-up pitch for a movie yet to be made.
That lack of inspiration bleeds into every aspect. Performances seem to sleepwalk through the sluggish script. Skilled comedic actors like Cena and Brie fail to land laughs not for lack of trying; they simply have nothing to work with. Their visible boredom mirrors the audience’s disengagement.
Even action maestro Morel seems to be going through the motions behind the camera. His lazy reliance on CGI and choppy editing deprive fight scenes of any visceral spark. None of his signature grit emerges in car chases more lethargic than thrilling. Morel coasts by on fumes of his former directorial vigor.
Perhaps worst of all, the film shows no awareness of its own deficiencies. It expects the audience to be entertained by half-hearted stabs at romance, intrigue, and humor that all fall flat. Every element is phoned in without an ounce of charm or wit. The emperor has no clothes, and no one told him.
Some fans of Cena or Brie may find their mere presence enough to pass the time somewhat enjoyably. Their charisma provides occasional respites from the slog. But most will likely end up frustrated to see their talents squandered so profoundly.
Freelance had all the ingredients for a classic action-comedy smoothie if blended well. Instead, it churned out a watery concoction with glimmers of flavor diluted in monotony. The result fails to satisfy on any level beyond the bare minimum standards of coherence. This serves as a textbook case of skilled Hollywood artists coasting on their laurels rather than delivering their A-game. It’s not a movie so much as an extended shrug.
In the end, Freelance amounts to a disappointingly dull and disjointed misfire for director Pierre Morel. His previous action flicks like District 13 and Taken demonstrate a capacity for kinetic, gritty thrills nowhere found here. Both his skills and the audience are underserved by this generic snoozefest.
If there are any winners to be found, it’s stars Cena and Brie. Their effortless charisma emerges unscathed, untarnished by the mediocrity surrounding them. Given properly energetic material, both have the comedic and action chops to shine across genres. The fault lies wholly in the filmmakers’ corner.
For John Cena fans, his upcoming slate in 2023 shows far more promise. The action comedy Argylle by Matthew Vaughn taps into Cena’s playful physicality and comedic timing. Fast X lets him stretch his muscles in the blockbuster franchise that boosted his star power. And with Peacemaker season 2 on the horizon, Cena will soon reprise the offbeat comic book role perfectly tailored to his talents.
As for Morel, perhaps he should take a cue from his own protagonist Mason, a soldier returning to his gritty roots after going soft. By falling back on his baser B-movie instincts and ditching CGI shortcuts, Morel could regain the directorial vigor showcased in earlier work like District 13 and Man on Fire. There, his kinetic action style hit the sweet spot between raw energy and deft craftsmanship.
Until then, Freelance stands as an unfortunate blip in Morel and Cena’s filmographies, and a wasted opportunity all around. For action comedy done right, look to Morel’s back catalogue for reassurance he still has that magic touch when properly inspired. As for Freelance itself, the prosecution rests with confidence this court finds the defendants guilty of mediocrity. Case dismissed.
Despite occasional glimmers of potential, Freelance wastes its talented cast and intriguing ingredients on a dull, disjointed product that fails to deliver on any front. Morel's indifferent direction, the muddled genre mashup, and lack of narrative cohesion or tonal awareness make this a disappointing misfire all around. Fans of the cast may find slight enjoyment, but most will be left bored and frustrated by the wasted opportunities.
- John Cena and Alison Brie have natural charisma and comedic talent that provides occasional bright spots
- Makes attempts at more serious political commentary, which is unusual for the genre
- Director Pierre Morel delivers a few well-crafted action sequences
- Lack of chemistry between the leads
- Humor rarely lands, relies on juvenile jokes
- World-building of fictional country is lazy and indistinct
- Action scenes come across as bland and routine
- Overuse of cheap/obvious CGI effects
- Romance subplot falls completely flat
- Performances seem bored, actors given little to work with
- Morel's direction lacks energy and creativity
- Disjointed tone, weirdly shifts between light comedy and serious
- Underdeveloped female characters used as sex objects
- Major plot elements discarded without narrative payoff
- Feels like a half-finished first draft rather than a completed film