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Outside the Wire: A Pleasant Throwback to Trashy 90s Sci-Fi (Review)

Outside the Wire: A Pleasant Throwback to Trashy 90s Sci-Fi (Review)

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Outside the Wire makes for perfectly enjoyable January junk that plays as a sci-fi riff on Training Day and The Terminator.

I have a January birthday and I love going to the movies. Hollywood has a long tradition of “January junk,” movies released in the box office wasteland of the year’s first month with little hope of success. As you can imagine, I’ve seen a great many of these over the years. They’re not always great, but it means I have found joy in movies like Screamers or The Relic, in Phantoms, and multiple Underworld sequels. Netflix has resurrected so many other genres that no longer see theatrical release, so why not January junk as well. And so, Outside the Wire stands ready to join the tradition.

All of the elements of good January junk are present here: we have a juicy sci-fi premise, workable special effects, and fun action sequences.  The elevator pitch here is simple: Training Day with The Terminator in the Denzel role.  While there are all sorts of more additional plot threads percolating here, the film’s basic sense of enjoyment comes from watching a profane veteran soldier who happens to be a cyborg (Anthony Mackie, of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Hurt Locker) mentor a rookie soldier (Damson Idris, of Black Mirror). The movie’s story is set primarily during the younger soldier’s first trip – ahem – Outside the Wire.

Here, outside the wire refers to exiting the demilitarized zone set in a vaguely defined Eastern European state where an evil Soviet-esque warlord is attempting to… nebulously wage war against his neighbor countries and America.  The film’s setting – 15 years in the future – leads to all sorts of reasonably fun trashy sci-fi devices from cybernetic soldiers to futuristic tactical grenades. The film kicks around the same broad discussion of what it means to be human we’ve seen in every single robot story since Čapek and Asimov. This isn’t hard sci-fi, however; the genre trappings are an excuse for fun action beats. And the action, here, is pretty good, including a fun sequence that sees one character use another as a human shield in increasingly absurd ways while fighting off a squad of enemy soldiers.

Damson Idris as Harp and Anthony Mackie ​as ​Leo in OUTSIDE THE WIRE (Jonathan Prime​/NETFLIX ​© ​2020)

Anthony Mackie makes for a very watchable version of Training Day’s Alonzo. He banters profanely about women back home while swaggering around nefariously. The film makes no real secret of his conflicted interests and morality, but Mackie seems to be having fun with it. He remains a solid action performer with the sort of physicality that allows the director not to have to cut too frequently. Damson Idris makes for a good foil for Mackie and has enough charisma to hold up his end of the banter. The character has no real texture, but Idris makes the best of it.

The supporting players are all fine, including Piou Asbaek (Game of Thrones), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), and Emily Beecham (Into the Badlands). As is usual in this sort of genre fair, they play archetypical characters with casting largely informed by how we know them elsewhere. Asbaek, of course, plays an unhinged military leader; Kelly plays a stoic, professional military man.  The so-called “Netflix algorithm” often gets blamed for this sort of casting, but the reality is that it’s been around forever. Movies have forever played off of the association most viewers will already have with an actor – it’s a casting shortcut to emotional reaction and can often replace the heavy lifting of exposition dumps.

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Look, this isn’t high art. Director Mikael Håfstrŏm (1408) ably crafts a smooth, pleasant sci-fi experience. It’s not going to challenge you, but the action beats are fun and the special effects feel are solid enough. Outside the Wire makes for a pleasant riff on 90s-style action and a reasonably fun addition to the long canon of January junk.

Outside the Wire: Trailer (Netflix)

Outside The Wire will be available to watch on Netflix on January 15, 2021.



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