Travis Leamons // Film Critic
Chadwick Boseman should be a movie star. It should have happened overnight when he starred as Jackie Robinson in 42 or James Brown in GET ON UP. But it took a Captain America movie, two Avengers movies, and his own solo adventure as Black Panther to place Boseman on everyone’s radar.
His encore after being resurrected from the “blip” in AVENGERS: ENDGAME is starring in 21 BRIDGES, a generic cop thriller that feels like its script was pulled out of a discard pile from 1993. This is precisely the movie Wesley Snipes would have been offered after PASSENGER 57 or Denzel would have passed on after making MALCOLM X.
Boseman plays NYPD detective Andre Davis, a righteous officer of the law, with good instincts. He is introduced as a tear-streaked teen attending the funeral of his policeman father, who was killed on the job. Nineteen years later, Andre has grown up to be New York’s super cop. He is routinely grilled by Internal Affairs for his “just cause” shootings of suspects. Andre is almost too good at his job and is known through the rank and file as a cop that kills cop killers. With that kind of reputation, criminals would be wise to get out of Manhattan.
Criminals like the well-armed Ray (Taylor Kitsch) and his I-don’t-feel-good-about-this partner Michael (Stephan James), who bust into a wine bar to boost thirty kilos of cocaine. Yet, mere minutes after they arrive, the cops show up. It’s the middle of the night, the bar’s closed, and no alarms were tripped. Right then, I knew the score better than poor Ray and Michael. A shootout breaks out, eight cops are killed, and they go on the run.
21 BRIDGES is supposed to be a tick-tock thriller. We know this because whenever there is an establishing drone aerial of New York, it’s accompanied by a timestamp. Leading the chase, Andre gets the OK for the bridges and tunnels of Manhattan to be closed. They’ll remain that way until daybreak, when the City that Never Sleeps stumbles out of bed, grabs a bagel and a Macchi-whatever and goes to work. Curiously, blocking the bridges and tunnel systems don’t factor into the story at all, and likely wouldn’t have gotten the approval of the mayor anyway. This is just one example of a donut-sized plot hole in a story that is as easily disposable as a napkin stained with glaze.
The machinations are simple: shoot, flee, investigate. More running, shooting, investigating. Throw in a hostage situation and trying to reason to slow things down before catching a second wind and start running again. 21 BRIDGES isn’t a tick-tock thriller; this is paint-by-numbers where the only colors that matter are black and blue. As the minutes tick by and intelligence drains, I started to think of F. Gary Gray’s thriller THE NEGOTIATOR with Samuel L. Jackson, hoping maybe Black Panther would call in Nick Fury to put this matter to rest. My wishes went unanswered. Instead, we’re left with some A-list talent in a D-list movie.
Boseman’s Andre Davis crosses Sidney Poitier’s Virgil Tibbs with Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. But other than a quick introduction that shows him as a caregiver for his dementia-stricken mother, we learn next to nothing about Andre. Is he married to the job? Does he have any hobbies? Come on, just show a little charm and humor, and stop just short of saying, “just the facts, ma’am.”
Better is Sienna Miller as narcotics detective Frankie Burns, who becomes Andre’s ad hoc partner for the night. Miller is a spitfire, despite looking like she hasn’t had a good night sleep in years. Frankie tells it like it is. Andre better kill those two guys without hesitation, because she’s a single mom and doesn’t want her daughter growing up without a mother. That’s what Capt. McKenna (J.K. Simmons) of the 85th precinct wants as well. Seeing eight cops under his command riddled with bullets, he makes it clear that he doesn’t want Andre to catch the killers. A toe tag will do.
And what about the criminals, Ray and Michael? The narrative splits between the hunters (cops) and the hunted (criminals) trying to find a middle ground to make us emotionally invested in both parties. The plan backfires as the cross-cutting between minimizes any tension. By the time dawn breaks over New York and the bridges open up, I had already hammered the final nail in the plot’s coffin before detective Davis could pull the trigger.
Everything about 21 BRIDGES, from its stumbling narrative to ham-fisted characters to foreseeing the inevitable, is careless. Boseman is better than starring in such a straightforward thriller. What did the Russo brothers of AVENGERS fame see in this the story that made them want to bring to the big screen with such urgency? Now that is a crime worth solving.
21 BRIDGES is now playing in theaters nationwide.