Synopsis: An Army medic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder becomes a serial bank robber after an addiction to drugs puts him in debt.
Stars: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Rispoli, Forrest Goodluck, Michael Gandolfini, Pooch Hall, Thomas Lennon, Kelli Berglund, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Nicole Forester, Jamie Brewer, Fionn O’Shea
Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Running Length: 140 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: In some ways, I get it. After spending the better part of the last decade doing nothing but living in the land of Marvel and working wonders within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brothers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo were likely ready for something totally different. They’d proven themselves originally with 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and their careful juggling of a number of celebrated stars in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War earned them the right to handle the reins for the final two films in the The Infinity Saga (2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame) and the results were nothing less than spectacular.
Of course they would want their next film to be something far afield of the superhero movies they’d been known for, so seeing Cherry come up on the release calendar was something to look forward to. They even chose to bring Tom Holland, their Spider-Man/Peter Parker, along in the lead role, allowing the young actor a further opportunity to take on more mature work beyond the spidey suit. Already proving himself at a young age with his staggering turn in 2013’s The Impossible (which he very nearly got an Oscar nomination for) as well as solid work in How I Live Now and last year’s The Devil All The Time, this true dramatic lead could be a prime showcase for Holland’s burgeoning career.
Unfortunately for everyone, Cherry is pretty rotten and while it’s not quite a bomb it’s fairly stinky and that includes Holland. Totally miscast as an aimless student turned solider that returns from the war and quickly becomes an addict and crook in no particular order, the whole kit and kaboodle is slicker than all get out but equates to absolutely nothing of substance. It’s like the Russo’s took all of the good ideas and insights they learned from the last several years and applied none of those tricks to Cherry, starting with hiring an editor that would slice the movie down from its punishment of a run time. Dedicated audiences will sit for two and a half hours if there are mini memorable moments along the way culminating in a payoff or two in the finale, but they won’t be happy to hit a final freeze frame and ask “That’s it?”
But wait, unlike Cherry, I’m moving too fast.
Based on the 2018 semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker who penned the tome while he was serving time in prison for robbery, Cherry centers on a man (Holland) who you’ll only realize is never named until you see the credits and note that screenwriters Jessica Goldberg and Russo sister Angela Russo-Otstot have gone ahead and given him the name…oh, heck, I won’t spoil that foolishness for you. Anyway, where we start is not where the story really begins, only where we’ll join back up again in a few hours. Until we return, we’ll see the man during his college years as he half-heartedly goes through school in a recreational drug haze and romances beautiful young co-ed Emily (Ciara Bravo) before she dumps him on her way to school in Canada. Frustrated, he joins the army just as she decides she can’t live without him. Oops.
His time in the army causes lasting PTSD and when he returns, he’s a changed man that for a while is able to self-cope with the horrors he saw overseas. When he’s introduced to hard drugs, he becomes all-consumed with his habit, eventually dragging Emily into the addiction with him. Now, with two dragons to chase, the couple become desperate for money and the man starts robbing banks for cash that goes right out the door to feed their habit. It’s a vicious cycle that’s only interrupted by the occasional overdose and a melodramatic side story involving junkie friends that want to get in on the action. Once Jack Reynor (Midsommar) enters the picture with an enthusiastic but misplaced energy as a popped collar post-yuppie early millennial that’s the mouthpiece for a dangerous drug dealer named Black, the film has officially tipped the scales to gaudy trash and we’re waiting for the ugliest stuff to happen.
Divided into six distinct chapters (I tell you this so you can count down), Cherry is such a mess from start to finish and one of those movies that become exhausting to watch by the time it crawls to the finish line. The best part about it is picking up on the clever ways the production designers have altered signage in the background to better represent “truth in advertising”. These are the rare moments of ingenuity that are sorely lacking in every other aspect of Cherry and that just shouldn’t have been missed in the first place. I’m not sure if anyone really needed this story to be told or what made Walker’s novel such a hot commodity the Russo’s felt drawn to the material. There’s nothing here (man goes to war, comes back with PTSD, becomes an addict, turns to crime, bad things are a result) that hasn’t been done before so if they don’t have anything more than flashy camera tricks and funny signs then what, really, is the point of it all?
It can’t be for the performances which are woefully out of joint, starting with Holland who is so wrong for the role even his hair wanted out of the picture by the end. For whatever reason, Holland sports a wig so ludicrously fake that I almost thought it was going to be revealed to be a disguise of some sort – he shaved his head in the military and came back with it that same length. Why have him with the long hair again (the awful wig) only to have him go short again several scenes later? Also – though I could believe Holland as a college kid at the start of the movie, the more the years went by the less I was able to get on board with his aging…especially since the make-up department seemed to think putting a moustache on him was enough to add fifteen years to his face. It doesn’t.
The age thing is a problem for everyone, really. In addition to Holland feeling too young, Bravo especially comes off as hardly out of grade school and that makes intimate scenes between the two feel creepy to watch. It’s not that Bravo doesn’t have it in her to pull off the part or that it’s anything about the work she’s doing, but I have trouble believing she’s the right person for this role right now. You know how in high school when a barely 16-year-old freshman was cast as 70-year-old grandfather and drew lots of lines on his forehead to show how old and distinguished he was? It’s the same effect. Aside from Reynor who seems age-appropriate and Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant) as a reckless stoner friend of the couple, the extended cast aren’t anything to get fired up either way about.
A huge headache masquerading as a movie, Cherry is a gigantic error in judgement for everyone involved. It does nothing to instill confidence that the Russo Brothers can handle anything outside the tropes of established franchise parameters and suggests that Holland might be more of a “stay in your own lane” actor than we originally thought. It absolutely puts the nail in any other drug-dependency biopics that may be in the pipeline, which is a pity because not all of these could possibly be as one-note and gross as Cherry.