Improbably talented assassins; super-spies in tight skirts — yes, Luc Besson has been here before, and, after his showy failure to launch a sci-fi franchise around Valerian‘s thousand planets, you can hardly blame him for going back to the well in search of an easy hit. But the thrill is long gone in Anna, a lifeless and instantly forgettable spy flick whose lead, Sasha Luss (a model whose only previous acting credit was in the aforementioned bomb), shows zero promise as a movie star. Unpicky genre fans may turn out on opening weekend, but older moviegoers in search of thrills they found in La Femme Nikita or The Professional should probably turn to another flavor of ’90s nostalgia instead, and buy a ticket to Toy Story 4.
Luss plays a bright Moscow trinket-merchant whose white-blonde mane is spotted by a scout for a Paris modeling agency in 1990. She’s whisked off to the French capital to live the glamorous life, and promptly catches the eye of one of the agency’s partners, whose main gig is selling arms in troubled countries. After they’ve dated for two months, she kills him.
This assassin shoots blanks.
Before you can stop to ponder what the film has just revealed about the beauty industry’s complicity in war crimes, Besson whisks you back three years to explain — something he’ll do predictably throughout the film, draining the drama out of every twist while the viewer’s still meant to be reeling from it. (The viewer’s unlikely to be reeling, but that’s a different problem.)
It turns out that in 1987, Anna was just an impoverished ex-prostitute with an abusive boyfriend and a laptop that wasn’t going to be invented until several years later — much less owned by people in Anna’s neighborhood. (Audiences who lived through the 1980s/’90s, or know much about the evolution of consumer technology, will find Anna a bizarrely unconvincing period piece.)
Anna was getting drawn into a life of crime when a KGB agent (Luke Evans’ Alex) snuck into her apartment to offer her a job. Explaining his unlikely presence, he says it has come to the KGB’s attention that she’s pretty good at chess. So of course she should be a spy, right? Anna’s response to the offer is even less likely. Look: Many of us have wanted to slit our wrists during job interviews, but very few have, and fewer still got the job anyway.
So back in 1990, Anna is entering the field under the watchful eye of Alex’s very skeptical boss Olga (Helen Mirren, the film’s first spark of life). While maintaining her cover as a model, she kills a slew of people in rote montages, making time to have unsexy sex with Alex and to start a relationship with a fellow model, Maud (Lera Abova). Besson’s script can’t be bothered to invent reasons for the killings: We will get some anachronistic MacGuffins (in the form of suspiciously small hard drives and USB thumb drives that won’t exist for another decade), but whatever secret data they contain is too boring for anyone to mention even in passing.
Along the way, Anna meets an American spy who forces her to become a double agent. Cillian Murphy is as jarring in his role as Mirren — they’re too lively and intelligent to play the film’s color-by-numbers game, and look like they might be working an angle: What if they just keep being the only people worth watching until Besson decides to pivot, making this a Tinker, Tailor-style game of string-pulling spymasters? No such luck.
Instead, Besson wants Murphy’s character to fall under Anna’s spell as well. At one point, the two actors hide together in a closet; the scene is supposed to be sexually charged, but there’s so little chemistry between them, they seem to have performed their lines separately on green-screens and been composited in postproduction.
Eventually, it becomes clear (not from Luss’ performance) that the movie’s point is Anna’s desire to be free of spymasters of all political persuasions. She just wants to be left alone, set up in a bungalow somewhere in Hawaii. If it will keep Anna from returning to movie screens again, that’ll be witness-relocation money well spent.
Production company: EuropaCorp
Distributor: Summit Entertainment
Cast: Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren, Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, Lera Abova, Alexander Petrov, Nikita Pavlenko, Anna Krippa
Director-screenwriter: Luc Besson
Producers: Luc Besson, Marc Shmuger
Executive producer: Jason Cloth
Director of photography: Thierry Arbogast
Production designer: Hugues Tissandier
Costume designer: Olivier Beriot
Editor: Julien Rey
Music: Eric Serra
Casting director: San Pham
In Russian, English
Rated R, 118 minutes