Karen Gillan is locked and loaded on Netflix.
The reason for the title “Gunpowder Milkshake” is because Karen Gillan plays an assassin named Sam, who loves her weapons and vanilla milkshakes served at a local diner. An interesting combo, wouldn’t you say? I’d say Yes, because of how “Pulp Fiction” expressed the dessert with John Travolta and Uma Thurman giving it a go. That was the best milkshake moment on film, but “Gunpowder Milkshake” isn’t about that. It’s about a young woman trying to get out of the mess she and her mother got her in.
Gillan made a name for herself with her roles in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” I met her last year on a virtual chat about what what she was doing during the pandemic, and she told me she wasn’t able to film any movies at the time, but was working on a script. When she gets it greenlit, I hope it will allow her to excel as an actress, and prove to everyone she’s more than meets the eye. In the meantime, I’m seeing “Gunpowder Milkshake” as an opportunity for Gillan to take on the lead role with the right kind of ambition. Almost like how Keanu Reeves redeemed himself with “John Wick” or when Bob Odenkirk changed his magazine with “Nobody.”
The movie begins with little Sam (Freya Allen) being left by her assassin mother Scarlett (Lena Headley), who is the leader of a sisterhood, and places her in the care of her boss Nathan (Paul Giamatti). 15 years later, Sam (Gillan) has a few things up her tail. Among the men she kills in a shootout, she kills the son of ruthless gangster Jim McAlester (Ralph Ineson), and must care for a soon-to-be 9-year-old named Emily (Chloe Coleman, fresh from “Spy”), whose father stole money from Nathan. And that same boss betrays Sam by making her a target.
When her backstabbing dentist (Michael Smiley) temporarily paralyzes her arm, Sam makes the kid her apprentice by taping weapons to her hands and making her drive the getaway car in some of the most entertaining ways I’ve seen in recent years. The parking garage becomes a fiasco, while the hallways get painted, and and both these action sequences are inspiring and flexible, under the guidance of director Navot Papushado (“Rabies,” “Big Bad Wolves”). And that also applies for a later fight sequence that wisely uses Janis Joplin’s “Pieces of My Heart.”
Then, her ma Scarlett comes back, apologizes for her choices, explains why, and takes both Sam and Emily to her sisterhood, which consists of the literal librarian Madeleine (Carla Gugino), because she claims librarians are supposed to be literal, the quick-to-anger Anna May (Angela Bassett), whose name sounds like Anime or Anna May Wong and hates Scarlett for leaving them, and the peaceful Florence (Michelle Yeoh), who attacks gunmen when they least expect it.
“Gunpowder Milkshake” doesn’t always have a clear story (written by Papushado and Ehud Lavski), but it does have a lot of energy and talents, who all deliver the goods, and take their chances. Gillan shines as the lead with her tastes and perspectives, Coleman improves on her last movie with an original spark, Headley, Bassett, Gugino, and Yeoh all have various styles as the sisterhood, Ineson has the voice of a vicious gangster, and Giamatti is the right choice as the main heroine’s boss.
The earlier diner scenes reminded me of the 1959 setting in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” which wasn’t the hit it should have been. I suppose it didn’t inform enough people it had a Quentin Tarantino quality that made it fun. I love looking at the milkshakes, the decor of the diner, and some vintage cars that park there. But don’t be fooled by its setting, because its set during the modern days with the cellphones and choice of dialogue and whatnot.
While moviegoers can share their debates on “Black Widow,” which I was mixed about as you know, streamers can find “Gunpowder Milkshake” on Netflix or the very few theaters it’s playing at. Trust me, this is a lot of fun.
Streaming on Netflix and Now Playing in Select Theaters