From its 15 minutes of credits to its refusal to acknowledge its place in the “white guy blows an Asian country to smithereens” canon to its title so generic that I had to stop the movie three times to check what it was called, Extraction is one of those movies that is brainless without malice or glee, almost a conscious refusal of the idea that movies have to mean anything. It’s not a film that inspires any sort of rage, even with its trigger-happy white savior concept, it’s so inoffensively violent and destructive that nothing has the tactile intention found in much better and much worse films, but instead it ignites a flaming apathy that sucks the air out of its admittedly strong performances and action setpieces.
Penned by famed LGBTQ+ ally Joe Russo, most well-known for his role as “grieving gay man” in Avengers: Endgame, as well as some directing projects, Extraction stars Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake, a mercenary hired to rescue the son of India’s greatest drug lord after he is captured and held for ransom by Bangladesh’s biggest drug lord. The bulk of the film follows Rake and the kid, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), as they move from level to level…sorry, scene to scene, trying not to get shot. Maybe the comparison to a video game is simplistic, but there’s so little heft to Extraction’s narrative that watching it feels like a highlight reel from a game or an above-average stunt coordinator’s demo tape; it’s hard to articulate how empty this film truly is.
Director Sam Hargrave is seemingly trying with his directorial debut, but he is weighed down so heavily by the script and his history as a stunt coordinator that the occasional flourishes of excitement or gleeful carnage just get rinsed down by everything else. There is some good action peppered throughout Extraction, particularly a long take in the middle that is quite inspired, but as the murky color palette of these Indian cities bares down on the characters, any attempt for style or showmanship is quickly strangled in service of choppy barely comprehensible flutters of bullets that give off a very convincing impression of a proper action scene. The other thing that Hargrave does properly here is assemble a worthwhile cast; Hemsworth and Jaiswal’s bond is the predictable “heart” to the film, and Rake’s redemption arc is nothing short of laughable, but these two actors work so well off each other that they liven up the film the best they can. Even wasted performers like David Harbour or the unfathomably talented Golshifteh Farahani bring an energy and exuberance to the viewing experience solely because they’re all very good at their jobs and know how to turn some bad dialogue into a halfway decent screen presence.
Have you ever been grocery shopping and stopped by the Redbox at the front of the store to just look at the movies? My favorite part of doing that was always seeing the bizarre direct-to-video action flicks with someone like Bruce Willis or Nicolas Cage on the cover that I had never heard of before. I never rented them, because I had real art to watch, like Playing with Fire, but they always amused me. Extraction, for better and for worse, functions like a higher-profile rendition of those sorts of films. Extraction (2020) has no existence without Hemsworth on the cover in the same way that Extraction (2015) doesn’t exist without Bruce Willis. And just like 2015’s, 2020’s Extraction will get lost to time, not even notable as fodder for a trivia night. It’s not incompetent or noticeably cruel, it’s just nothing. It sparks no joy nor distaste, no excitement nor intrigue. It just is. It cost $65 million just to exist. I can’t think of anything more depressing than that.