Anthony Mackie is a robot with a conscience in Netflix’s new, overlong anti-war actioner Outside the Wire.
The essential problem with Mikael Håfström’s Outside the Wire, which is streaming on Netflix from today, is that it’s a typical action-packed thriller that also wants you to feel a bit guilty about enjoying its frequent, expensive-looking scenes of carnage. It’s a movie about an awesome android soldier tearing a bloody swathe through a vaguely-defined near-future Eastern European warzone that occasionally stops to have that android make moral and philosophical points. The irony of a hybrid of synthetic parts and organic posturing being the mouthpiece for a movie that grafts together recognizable elements of many other, often better and more interesting thrillers, is unfortunately never addressed either.
If you can overlook this, the messy handling of its themes and the brutally overlong runtime, then you just might get some facile pleasure from Outside the Wire, which at its very worst is at least competent. Set in some nebulous future in which warfare is becoming automated and infantrymen are beginning to be replaced with humanoid killing machines known colloquially as “Gumps”, Damson Idris’s idealistic drone pilot Harp is reassigned to partner with Leo (Anthony Mackie), an all-action android whose inner workings are as modern and complicated as his opinion of American overseas interventionism, nuclear warfare, drone strikes, and increasingly fluid rules of engagement.
What this amounts to, really, is a few longwinded and artlessly-written conversations in the car between firefights – those are reminiscent of Training Day, even if the subject is plucked straight from Eye in the Sky. But the action itself is basically cribbed from the Terminator franchise, which is just as well since a lot of what Mackie is doing with Netflix these days – Altered Carbon, Point Blank – is basically an algorithmic affair anyway. He’s about as good in this as he usually is, which is to say as good as the material requires and no better than that.
Nevertheless, Mackie and Idris have an interesting-enough dynamic to keep Outside the Wire moderately engaging, even amongst frequent set-pieces shot with a glee that only works to undermine the film’s underlying point, and an underused Emily Beecham complicates the debate further with an entirely different perspective. As heavy-handed and largely unexplored as the film’s ideas are, at least it actually has some, which is more than you can say for most of Netflix’s big-name mid-budget thrillers, much less those released in January. It’ll do as a slightly bloated diversion in an otherwise light streaming weekend.