Lou proves to be a surprising and nostalgic actioner for its first half, but it utterly undone by an interminable second half beset by twists and repetition.
Of all the AARP-aged actors in Hollywood today looking for a career resurgence through the Liam Neeson/Taken school of senior citizen ass-kicking, Oscar-winner Allison Janney seems the least likely candidate. Sure, the actress has proven to have a knack for portraying strong-willed women for whom no opponent is much of a match, but Janney’s preferred weapon of choice has always been a barbed wit and tongue, her fierce intelligence proving far deadlier than the likes of some piddly knife or loaded gun. That’s not to say that the titular character of the new Netflix action extravaganza Lou is some simpleton; indeed, there is not a moment where she isn’t the smartest person on screen, using her impressive wiles to try to put a stop to generic bad buy Logan Marshall-Green. But the Janney of Lou uses fists first, words later, and that is if they come at all.
But in theory, the choice of the actress actually makes sense, as batshit as that may sound. It’s simply in execution that that film fails her, even after a pretty promising first half. The Lou of Lou is a former CIA agent who worked deep undercover in the volatile ‘60’s, engaging in nefarious deeds that her colleagues found unsavory but which she proved most adept at. As the film opens, Lou is living off the grid in the remote Canadian wilderness, her trusted dog, Jack, her only friend. A montage reveals that Lou is preparing to kill herself, no longer able to live with the guilt of her past actions. That the film’s first scene is Lou’s attempted suicide before abruptly cutting to the title card shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; that writers Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley managed to avoid adding a freeze frame and voiceover narration that included the line, “You’re probably wondering how I wound up here…” proves that at least some semblance of restraint was invoked, though the only instance to be found. Meanwhile, next-door neighbor Hannah (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) lives with her young daughter, Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman), and has a troubled relationship with her ex-husband, Phillip (Marshall-Green), whom she hasn’t seen in several years.
All of these characters converge on one fateful night as the storm of the century rages on, with Phillip kidnapping Vee and taking her to some unnamed location. Hannah interrupts Lou’s suicide attempt and asks for help, which Lou is, surprisingly, more than happy to provide. The first hour of Lou consists of these two fierce women tracking Phillip and Vee through the vast and unrelenting wilderness, occasionally encountering one of the Phillip’s violent underlings, all of whom Lou dispatches with startling efficiency. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are the best part of Lou, with director Anna Foerster opting for a combination of medium shots and intimate close-ups that serve to highlight rather than obscure the intricate fight choreography, the editing avoiding any sort of Bourne tomfoolery. The brutality of the violence is most surprising, as few viewers are likely to expect to witness Janney stab a man in the asshole with a jagged canned food lid (though that doesn’t mean that they, like this writer, won’t cheer). There’s also something rather old school about both the plot and choice of location, with the addition of the storm lending the proceedings a late-‘90’s vibe that is wholly welcome and a nice aesthetic supplement for the material — in truth, more films need to rip-off the Christian Slater actioner Hard Rain.
Unfortunately, things take a turn for the monotonous at the hour-mark, as Lou and Hannah finally confront Philip. “Wait,” you might be asking yourself. “Isn’t the film 109 minutes?” You’d be right. Lou decides to spring on the viewer a bit of a twist that is supposed to add gravitas to the proceedings, but which instead makes them borderline interminable, as the movie suddenly turns into a portrait of familial discord, with Lou occasionally getting shot or stabbed, accepting her fate, then recovering out of nowhere and kicking more ass. They whole thing becomes downright comical, merely an exercise in counting the amount of times this woman is at death’s door, with the healing power of a quick nap proving her Lord and Savior. We take a pleasant turn back to the nostalgia well as Lou finally culminates at a lighthouse, seemingly only so that numerous characters can perilously hang off of it, but by this point the viewer has become so inured to the banal and repetitive second-half proceedings that most will have already checked out. Janney’s physicality throughout it all is impressive, and she does what she can to inject a measure of pathos into a character that is morally reprehensible, but not even she can overcome characterization this derivative and hackneyed. Smollett-Bell gets a few nice moments here and there — more than she was ever afforded in a Tyler Perry production — but viewers will mostly just feel bad that her and Janney had to wallow in mud and be drenched by seemingly endless deluges of water for weeks on end. There’s certainly some fun to be had in Lou; it’s just too bad the entire film feels washed out by an insufferable second half.
You can currently stream Anna Foerster’s Lou on Netflix.