January 7, 2020 Agent Jade Black (Movie Review)
The Black Widow film is not out until May 2020, and the Alias TV series ended 14 years ago. So, are there any other options for women in spy flicks? Well, probably quite a few if one searches, but the latest offering you will find is Director/Producer Terry Spears’ (Hell’s Belle 2019, American Terror Story 2019) new release, Agent Jade Black, due out on January 7, 2020, through High Octane Pictures.
In it, the titular secret agent (Katie Burgess: Gremlin 2017, The Jurassic Games 2018) must take down her rogue predecessor Elle (Connie Franklin: Maintenance 2020) before she unleashes a biologically engineered super virus on a range of US diplomats and ambassadors. So, the film’s mission, whether it accepts it or not, is to be an entertaining bit of spy vs. spy action. Does it make 2006’s Casino Royale look like 1983’s Octopussy, or vice-versa?
The short answer is neither, at least in terms of technical quality. The film is a cheaper production, so they could not jet off to exotic locations like James Bond does, but the crew does try to make the areas around Tulsa, Oklahoma look like the Middle East, Rome, etc. It does succeed at this better than 2019’s The Mummy Rebirth’s attempts to turn Georgia into Egypt, but that does not mean the direction is all wine and roses.
There are some nice shots here and there, and editing is competent enough for most scenes. Yet there are some rough-looking action scenes and the audio quality dips about – like the first scene in the film where Burgess is almost drowned out by the wind, or later when Burgess can be heard clearly but her pursuers have the quietest shouts. This seemingly suggests that ADR time was limited, or the crew only had so many boom mics to work with.
Though for others, silence might be golden because the writing gets ropey (“The rat has fed on us both! Don’t we deserve atonement?”), and it is less James Bond than an awkward Joss Whedon impression. There is a Buffy-ish vibe with the blonde protagonist exchanging quips with her superior (Sidney Flack: I Stand: The Guardians of the Water 2017, Scandal Made Me Famous 2017) while fighting her evil, brunette counterpart (“I was you, before you were you”) – only it comes off as more cringey here.
It is hard to imagine a better cast spinning the lines into gold, so the current cast did not have much hope. Being fair, Flack and a debuting Taylor Reich play their roles as the film’s M and Q quite well for the most part. Luke Wyckoff (Starbright 2020) has the expressions to play secondary baddy Hawthorne, though some of his line reads could have been better. However, the supporting cast can only do so much to prop up the leads. Burgess is a mixed bag in the title role- some highs, some lows- but she is not particularly convincing as a super spy; less Jade Bond than plain Jade.
But the wooden spoon goes to Franklin’s Elle. Some actors like, say, Clancy Brown (Highlander 1986) can chew scenery like it is no one’s business, yet they usually have the chops to make it entertaining. Franklin is what happens when one lacks those chops. Her Elle is supposed to be insane and wild, but her performance falls short of making her character the next Kurrgan. They are too silly to take seriously and too irritating to put up with for too long. She does not make audiences want to see her get taken down, she makes them want to do something else.
Ultimately, Agent Jade Black fails its mission. There is little enjoyment to be pulled from this film, be it genuine or ironic. The best spy films manage to captivate their audiences with intriguing drama and twists, or with elaborate stunts and engaging characters. Some even manage all four. But the drama here is dull, there are no twists, the stunts lack impact, and the characters are either ho-hum or outright irritating (sorry Franklin). The film is competent enough not to be an outright bomb, but one would still not want it hanging around in their homes. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Agent Jade Black 2 out of 5 stars.