I don’t know about you, but I’m personally of the opinion that Salma Hayek is one of the sexiest women to every grace our unworthy mortal realm with her goddess-like presence. I open with that because Everly, the latest directorial effort from Joe Lynch, doesn’t really have much going on outside of its scantily-clad, gun-toting heroine. Naturally I found it to be pretty enjoyable, but your mileage will obviously vary based on how much the spectacle of Hayek both flaunting and kicking ass can sustain an otherwise pretty derivative action vehicle.
Perhaps “derivative” isn’t entirely fair. It’s certainly familiar in its structure (think Die Hard, or The Raid with an inverted central premise), and it cribs a lot of recognisable filmic leftovers from grindhouse cinema, Japanese horror, Tarantino movies (particularly Kill Bill) and the entire sweep of the Saw franchise, from the single-location staging to the elaborate, gory torture. Having said that, Lynch’s direction is undeniably stylish enough to lend the more well-worn elements a degree of vitality, and screenwriter Yale Hannon does an excellent job of laying out the narrative particulars with admirable – and welcome – economy.
Hayek plays the titular Everly, a sex-slave who, for the past four years, has been held against her will in a luxury apartment as the personal plaything of Taiko – the head of a ruthless Yakuza syndicate. As the movie opens we learn that her one chance of salvation – working as a police informant – has been exposed, meaning that instead of the rescue she was anticipating, she now has to look forward to an entire city’s worth of would-be bounty hunters looking to collect the hefty cash reward Taiko is offering for her life. This is all established at a breakneck pace, but clearly and concisely, often not through wordy exposition, but rather action, environmental clues and nimble cinematography. The opening shot, for instance, looms from overhead, showing a naked (though discreetly-framed) Everly digging out a handgun and a mobile phone from the toilet cistern, her entire back covered by an ornate Japanese tattoo.
Many of the story wrinkles are ironed out in a similar fashion, and even though the plotting doesn’t take Everly anywhere surprising (or, on reflection, even all that logical) what’s there is nonetheless told with a definite consideration of craft. Aside from an oddly noticeable middle portion which literally revives a dead character just to allow for some nonviolent human interaction, for the most part Everly is content to go balls-to-the-wall from its opening scene and just scatter everything else like confetti whenever the guns need reloading. It worked well enough for me.
If you’re unfamiliar with director Joe Lynch, he’s the guy responsible for Wrong Turn 2 – the only halfway-decent instalment in that particular franchise. He’s a filmmaker more associated with the horror genre, which actually serves Everly rather well. It’s violent. Surprisingly so, actually, but never in a way that felt controversy-baiting or in truly bad taste. It’s much more the kind of B-movie schlock-horror fare which throws buckets of blood and guts around just to liven things up, and it certainly accomplishes that. What it also manages to do is lend the single primary set a really unusual sense of grotesque continuity. Movies with a high body count don’t typically stick around to have their heroes literally trip over corpses, but Everly does that a lot. It’s an interesting conceit, and a clever one – particularly when previously forgotten-about details crop up to surprise you further down the line.
Of course, Everly is Hayek’s movie through and through, and the gravity of her fiery sexual charisma is what keeps everything else in a steady orbit. It’s surprising how ferocious of a screen presence she can be when she isn’t tethered to middling Adam Sandler comedies. She’s a performer who knows how to make the most of her appeal, and Everly is happy to oblige her; even though she spends almost all of her time running around in a skimpy slip or, latterly, yoga pants, it feels less like the movie is exploiting her and more like she’s exploiting it as a means of reaching back through time to the kind of sexy action roles which made her popular in the first place.
I do see the nitpick train coming into the station, mind. Everly’s premise is restrictive enough that it’s undoubtedly going to be an issue for some audiences, particularly those looking for narrative and character development, of which there is very little. In fact, those elements are hurled at the screenplay and splattered all over it in the hope some of it just sticks – it’s the cinematic storytelling equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting. The structure doesn’t allow for a gradual progression of anything, and lots of stuff is either completely omitted, hastily sped through or just inserted out of nowhere for lack of anywhere better to put it. There’s an on-going subplot involving Everly’s mother and estranged daughter, for instance, which isn’t given enough time or attention to be resonant or moving, so feels more like a cheap heartstring-pulling contrivance every time it’s addressed.
The tone, likewise, is all over the place, often to a jarring extent. It’s another casualty of the stifling setup, which evidently doesn’t provide Lynch with the necessary space to implement all of his crazy ideas for action scenes, humorous dialogue and dramatic beats, so they’re all jury-rigged alongside each other or stuffed awkwardly into scenes that already have an awful lot going on. It’s not uncommon for a hard-action sequence in Everly to be bookended by slapstick comedy or maudlin emotional drama, which is occasionally difficult to take. Again, your mileage may vary.
Still, Everly is a lot of fun and Salma Hayek kicks all kinds of ass in a joyously gory and inventive way. You know better than I do whether or not that kind of thing can carry you for 90 minutes, but it certainly scratched an itch for me. I’d say make a point of seeing this, but then again, I’m still an 18-year-old boy at heart, so I suppose I would say that.
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