‘Terminal’s Noir-ish Critique Is a Cynical Waste of Style and Talent

You may have heard of Vaughn Stein’s Terminal given its millions of trailer views, popularity with IMDb users with its relatively high search figures and a number of online movie news sources coming around with pieces excoriating it and scratching their heads over it, but to the wider film world, it might as well have never existed. Quietly released this past weekend against Life of the Party, Breaking In and a rampant Infinity War, the film has only made its way onto various VOD platforms, and Box Office Mojo, a website dedicated to tracking the financial performance of all films regardless of budget or release, doesn’t even include it in its expansive database.

So much of this neo-noir-ish color frenzy’s production and release feels off – feelings that eventually and unfortunately bleed into the viewing experience and perhaps explain why marketing for this flick was nonexistent. The trailer was suddenly dropped with little to no fanfare in late March, less than two months before its expected due date. The cast includes major names like Margot Robbie, who’s also producing under her LuckyChap Entertainment banner, Simon Pegg and Mike Myers in his feature length narrative return, but they’re just about the only ones we see onscreen apart from Dexter Fletcher and Max Irons.

The production and art design may look sleek with the cinematography’s heavily exaggerated neon-drenched frames that might resemble the conjoined coked-out fantasies of Frank Miller and Nicolas Winding Refn, but the sets are often sparse in their construction and incredibly limited in number. Not to mention, this is a film supposedly set in London’s criminal underworld, yet principal photography took place in Budapest – bearing in mind, a few of the production companies involved, including LuckyChap, have offices and/or headquarters located in the UK.

With next to no advertising catapulting this film, with its style and stars, into the public light, the behind the scenes details alone ensure Terminal reeks of a low-budget lost cause desperate to cover up how little there was invested in it. And just as this LSD-inspired visual trip down the proverbial rabbit hole may have been employed to mask low production costs, it does the same for equally distracting its audience from a plethora of stock characters, conventional narrative beats and storytelling faux pas – for example, within this hour and a half movie’s first third is a sprawling, confusingly told 14-minute flashback.

In his first time as a feature-length writer and in the director’s chair, Stein confuses incoherence with uniqueness and auteuristic idiosyncrasy, jumping from one seemingly separate character group and timeline to another with dizzying disregard for his audience while operating under the guise of a purposefully twisty, knot-ridden mystery. Maybe there are enough cinematic references and literary allusions to get your rocks off, particularly toward Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” but that’s all the film can offer by way of substance or creative energy.

The narrative itself is bafflingly lethargic as little of consequence in the plot happens until the story’s midpoint, meanwhile Stein and Co. subject us to scene after scene of half-baked Cockney banter, exhausting machismo – which might have admittedly been the point – and meandering philosophizing on life and death that horribly stifles flow to the point of boredom-induced sleep. It’s a film that would do anything to generate the mere appearance and atmosphere of a slick, cock-sure neo-noir film complete with the genre’s trademark cynicism, intrigue and grit, except all of the requisite things that make any movie coherent and compelling.

Characters hardly, if ever, evolve beyond their initially established personas, the pacing gets sucked dry by Stein’s inability to create even mild intrigue and with little to no development by way of plot or characters, the twists that begin around the hour mark bringing all of these storylines to a close feel entirely humdrum, and not just predictable in their execution. Empty and shallow, Terminal drowns in the cynicism of its stylistic approach, choking on candy-coated lighting gels until there’s no choice but to vomit rainbow-colored pizzazz all over the mise-en-scène, blindly hoping doing so can alleviate its own woeful illnesses.

The cast may intermittently display their own interest in living up to film’s technical liveliness – Robbie especially chews up the scenery for brief periods to keep eyelids from fully drooping – but they can only do so much to distract from Stein and the crew’s near-constant erroneous judgment. With every head-spinning example of jarring scene progression, every conceivable path not taken with these anxiety-ridden characters cramped by such a dingy world and every reveal made apparent by either editing mishaps or the confinements of low-budget filmmaking informing viewer predictions and, ultimately, trope-infested plot direction, you’re left wondering why this movie exists at all. Clearly, RLJE Films had little use for it cluttering up their shelves.

Perhaps Stein’s point was to examine and critique the consequences of unchecked masculinity in similar stories, but such an interpretation, admirable as it may be, gets lost in translation until it’s incorporated into the film’s final twist, helpless to the overwhelming nothing that plagues the majority of the runtime. Trippy, female-driven noir fantasy, hyperactive comic book pastiche of sorts; however you use attention-grabbing qualifiers to justify its existence, it’s still a complete waste of one with little to no redeeming value. If it was only good enough to sneakily release under everyone’s noses, was it good enough at all?


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