Film Review: MI-5

An unconvincing Kit Harington squares off against a generic terrorist in this ungainly, incomprehensible spy film.

Though it’s a cinematic continuation of last decade’s British TV show “Spooks,” MI-5 is such a misbegotten spy saga that it should prove baffling and dull to longtime series fans and newbies alike. From its traitor-in-our-midst narrative to a finale set inside the British espionage agency’s headquarters, Bharat Nalluri’s film comes across as a laughable parody of “24”–except instead of Kiefer Sutherland’s over-the-top intensity, these dreary proceedings only boast the pretty-boy grimacing of “Game of Thrones”’ Kit Harington, here playing a former MI-5 agent who’s grudgingly brought back into the fold after his boss, counterterrorism chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth), goes rogue.

The reason for Pearce’s defection is a failed prisoner transport involving generic Muslim terrorist Adem Qasim (Elyes Gabel), who easily broke out of custody with the aid of a crew of motorcycle comrades. Taking his superior’s blame for this catastrophe, Pearce heads out on his own, determined to find out which MI-5 member helped facilitate Qasim’s breakout. In one of innumerable preposterous plot twists, it takes Pearce mere minutes to locate and meet Qasim, all in order to make a deal with the international criminal: In exchange for intel on the mole inside MI-5, Pearce will free Qasim’s imprisoned pregnant wife. Qasim accepts this arrangement, provided that Pearce prove his trustworthiness by killing one of his own undercover agents–an ultimatum that Pearce reluctantly agrees to, thus immediately establishing him as an unlikeable, weak-kneed cretin.

Desperate to find Pearce, whom they believe is in league with Qasim, and who’s now staged his own suicide and “gone dark,” MI-5 recruits Holloway, a brooding hotshot who has some sort of gripe with his former employers, and spends most of his time making oh-so-serious faces while posing like a wannabe-accomplished badass. Harington has neither the physical stature nor attitude to embody such a dashing do-it-my-way spy, and as a result, MI-5 quickly becomes a showcase for its headliner’s mannered acting. Not that he’s helped by the script. As written by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, the story careens wildly between leaden bombshells involving double-crosses, secret allegiances and even-more-secret evidence, none of which makes a lick of sense and which director Nalluri gussies up with standard-issue, hectically edited fights and shootouts. It’s no wonder that Firth, often relegated to standing around waiting for Harington at random London locales, looks so dreadfully bored.

Swooshing camerawork combines with endless talk about dead fathers and righteous causes to turn MI-5 into a borderline-intolerable stew of spy-movie clichés, such that every set-piece–from a skirmish in a narrow hallway to a final clash amidst office-worker innocents–feels like it’s been sloppily photocopied from prior, superior espionage efforts. Despite its focus on a terrorist plot against Western Europe, there’s no timely topicality to Nalluri’s film because it isn’t interested in the real world but, rather, in derivative fantasy. Frantic without being exciting, convoluted without being complex, and flashy without boasting any actual style, it’s a dreary direct-to-video-grade adventure that should have been terminated before it ever began.

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