But between the skeletons in characters’ closets and the ghosts of movie cliches past, present and future, “Crisis” is something of a horror film, and not in a good way.
Written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki (“Arbitrage”) — the half brother of acclaimed documentarians Andrew Jarecki (“Capturing the Friedmans,” “The Jinx”) and Eugene Jarecki (“Why We Fight”) — “Crisis” is a star-studded affair that follows three separate ripped-from-the-headlines stories.
First, there’s the foul-mouthed DEA agent (Armie Hammer) trying to reel in the big fish behind an international opioid-smuggling operation. (His sister, played by Lily-Rose Depp, is herself an addict.) Then there’s the mother of that dead teen (Evangeline Lilly), a recovering painkiller addict and avenging angel who embarks on a vigilante mission to find and kill the men she holds responsible for her son’s death — one of whom, in an unsubtle touch, is a bearded Quebecois heavy nicknamed Mother. Finally, there’s the idealistic but tarnished academic (Gary Oldman, in full, sputtering, declamatory mode), a whistleblower who struggles to expose the dangers of a deadly new painkiller nearing FDA approval. His résumé includes old innuendoes about alcoholism and sexual harassment.
Rounding out the supporting cast are Michelle Rodriguez as a DEA supervisor; Luke Evans and Martin Donovan as corrupt drug-company executives; rapper-actor Kid Cudi as an ineffectual FDA bureaucrat; and Greg Kinnear as a university dean torn between supporting his faculty’s research and taking a fat check from Big Pharma for a new school arts center.
But forget the marquee names. This cinematic triple-decker sandwich is so overstuffed with baloney and cheese it ought to come with a pickle on the side.
Jarecki, who casts himself as a DEA agent, has clearly chosen a topic that’s worth exploring from several angles, as Steven Soderbergh did with “Traffic.” But the approach taken by “Crisis” to its complex subject is so obvious as to render anything the film might have to add to the discussion of addiction, greed or law enforcement perfunctory. Despite an effort to write characters as antiheroes who dance dangerously close to the edge of the moral abyss, the performances by Hammer, Lilly and Oldman all feel, effectively, like cardboard cutouts.
Originally called “Dreamland,” the far more urgently titled “Crisis” delivers a narrative — three of them, to be exact, with two on a collision course — that ultimately fails to meet the standard of an emergency. Despite a plot involving plenty of lawbreaking, the unengaging, even sleepy, goings-on never feel like something you’d call 911 about, except in one sense: This traffic jam of a movie is a pileup.
R. At the Cinemark Fairfax Corner 14 and XD; available March 5 on various streaming platforms.
Contains drug material, violence and crude language throughout. 118 minutes.