I’m not quite sure what to make of Gerard Butler at this point. I can’t decide if he’s just really cheap to cast, or doesn’t read scripts and shows up on set as soon as the phone rings. I’m all down for the b-movie action star. Hell, Steven Seagal made an entire career of these straight to video type films. The difference is, whether Seagal knows it or not, a vast majority of his filmography is well aware of the shlock factors. Butler and the projects he chooses all seem to miss this pivotal mark, aiming to add levels of self seriousness to the worst of premises. This was noticeable with “Plane,” which had no business pretending it had anything to say, and is now followed by “Kandahar,” another film lacking self awareness and desperately trying add meaning to a meaningless outing. I am all for collecting those checks to feed your family. But at the very least admit that that’s what you’re doing instead of trying to pretend you’re striving to make high brow action cinema. “Kandahar” is a major miss across the board and a harsh reminder that action films should never be this boring.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh from a script by Mitchell LaFortune, “Kandahar” can’t escape its derivative framework even in its synopsis. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: CIA agent Tom Harris takes one last job before returning home, his cover gets blown and now he and his interpreter are stuck behind enemy lines and need to travel through 400 miles of hostile terrain to reach a military base in Kandahar. Along the way there are a plethora of operatives from countless countries all tasked with stopping them from reaching their destination, as well as bunch of other government agents trying to assist their precious spy to make it home safe. Oh ya, and the interpreter has a mission of his own that partially conflicts with the main one, something about family and redemption. It’s not quite clear, but also somehow plays a pivotal role in their relationship as they travel across the desert sand.
“Kandahar” feels like Waugh watched “Guy Ritche’s The Covenant” and tasked himself with making the same film. Unfortunately, Waugh forgot to add the most important part of his copy cat work: you actually have to make your movie thrilling and have, you know, action to make an action thriller. Instead, Waugh trades out any kind of intrigue for convoluted political mumbo jumbo that is so messy and sprawling it’s near impossible to understand the motivations of anyone. “Kandahar” is baffling in its poor choices, especially considering the film reunites Waugh and Butler from their “Angel Has Fallen” outing. Granted, it’s not the best of that series, but both men understand action and why it’s so important when you’re making a film like this. This film inextricably trades anything that could be possibly interesting from a bunch nondescript guys standing around in rooms talking about things that seemingly have nothing to do with what is actually happening.
The amount of meaningless characters is staggering. “Kandahar” has so many people that are supposed to be important but end up being relegated to undercooked subplots that never have any kind of payoff. There was literally a character that was introduced in the first act and then disappears until the final moments of the film. She turns out to be so inconsequential I said out loud, “oh ya, I forgot all about her!” Yes, “Kandahar” is that messy and unfocused to the point that you forget characters even existed. It’s unfortunate too, because you get the sense that a lot of these actors are vying for an opportunity to make a splash in Hollywood and American cinema. But outside of the recognizable Butler and few close up shots of some faces we’re suppose to remember and recognize from their foreign film appearances, “Kandahar” is so uninterested in being interesting is squanders all of them and as of this writing, the actors don’t even character names listed on Wikipedia. That’s right, I can’t even tell you WHO these people are playing in “Kandahar.”
Look, I actually want Butler to succeed. Despite my harsh criticisms of his recent filmography, I actually think he’s a very capable actor trapped in bad projects for the money. With a little more discernment, I believe Butler could be a legitimate actor in films people want to see for more than just his name on the title card and face on the poster. That’s not a bad life to have either, but the problem is with every “Kandahar” release, it diminishes his star power and continues to waste his talents. I truthfully thought “Plane” was the lowest form wannabe action schlock 2023 had to offer. Then I watched “Kandahar” and discovered that the lows of this mindless slog was just getting started. It’s not even so good it’s bad, it’s just bad, boring, and not self aware enough to be even remotely entertaining.
This one is a bad one, folks. “Kandahar” has its roots is far better films released this year, and lacks the self awareness to be worth watching. Spend your Memorial Day weekend seeing anything else. “Kandahar” is not worth your time in the theater, and you will be filled with regret if you decide to see for yourself. Seriously, just watch “Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant.” It’s the far better version of this film, and at the very least actually HAS action in an action film.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
“Kandahar” hits theaters May 26th. You can watch the trailer below.