Gunpower Milkshake is proof that you can have five talented, compelling actors acting the hell out of themselves and it still won’t make up for a one-dimensional derivative script. I’d still probably crawl through teargas to see Karen Gillan, Lena Headey, Angela Bassett, Michelle Yeoh, and Carla Gugino kicking ass in an assassin sisterhood, but it’s a real disappointment they didn’t have a script that could leverage their combined star power and thespian skill. What made the filmmakers behind Gunpowder Milkshake think they could replace dudes with guns with five powerful women working together (vaginas with guns?) and it would still just add up to the same old story?
The first few seconds of Gunpowder Milkshake begin with assassin Eva (Gillan) unexpectedly facing dozens of foes as she’s leaving a hit. We flash back to her childhood, and Eva and her murderer-for-hire mom Scarlet (Headey) share a milkshake at their favorite killer-friendly diner. Something goes wrong, and Scarlet leaves Eva alone. Cut to today, when Eva gets a kill contract from friendly yet terrifying boss Nathan (Paul Giamatti). He is highly placed in an all-male run syndicate called “The Firm”, and tells her the target ‘stole something from us’. After Eva shoots her victim, she discovers he stole in order to rescue his kidnapped daughter, who is in imminent danger of being murdered. Newcomer Chloe Coleman plays Emily, the 8-year-old caught in the crossfire Eva feels compelled to protect. Entering the fray are members of ‘the library’, which is indeed a library, but lots of books therein have page cut-outs hiding weapons inside. A colorful cast of badass librarians who also happen to be assassins and longtime friends of the long-disappeared Scarlet and her daughter run the joint. This tight knit crew includes Madeleine (Gugino), who loves books and hates curse words, Anna May (Bassett), who is mad at Scarlet, and Florence (Yeoh), who is circumspect and all about business. That’s all we know about these women. Who is the leader? It appears to be a democracy, because they vote before taking action, but that’s unclear. We do know they can and will fight, and if need be, fight dirty.
We are given a bit too much information about each character if the idea was to design the film around a sort of female version of ‘the man with no name’ archetype, but given too little for the audience to get hooked into the characters. It’s clear co-screenwriter and director Navot Papushado idolizes the work of Quentin Tarantino, but in his films the one thing Tarantino definitely does is give powerful motivation and backstory to his characters. It’s the reason for all that meandering dialogue your Tarantino-obsessed friends quote all the time.
There’s a point where the sheer number of references to Tarantino films turn from homage to sycophancy. Emily wears a down jacket the exact shade of yellow Kiddo wears in Kill Bill, a diner is a major action hub, a la Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and don’t get me started on the level of derivation in the shoot-out scenes. The trouble is that Tarantino himself was paying homage to his own cinematic heroes, so a number of these are 2-3 steps away from the original inspiration. That’s not to say that Gillan, Headey, Bassett, Yoeh, and Gugino don’t look cool AF cocking a shotgun in slow motion, or spraying a 50 foot radius with machine gun bullets.
These actors definitely put their heart into making Gunpowder Milkshake. You can’t blame them for its lack of substance. The problem is the writer/director gave them a flavorless recipe.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars.