The great Taken-ing of actors over 55, from playing dad to playing dad who is also a retired hitman, was a boon for the Neesons and Odenkirks and Costners but less so for their female counterparts, shuffled on from mom to mom who is also married to a retired hitman. Things seem to be slightly improving this year with more women of a similar age allowed into the action genre that has traditionally left them unarmed, with Michelle Yeoh and Viola Davis fighting their way to box office success (before Jamie Lee Curtis returns to “end” Michael Myers next month) , and now, inevitably, Netflix is bringing up the rear with a more conventional vehicle, this time for Oscar winner Allison Janney.
If only it wasn’t called Lou, a dreadfully silly title that’s hard to say out loud with any vague sense of excitement (just try it – Lou, Lou, Lou). It’s sadly also hard to watch it while feeling any vague sense of excitement or any sense of anything, really, a film that works best as a thrilling concept – Allison Janney does Taken – than a real thing.
Janney plays, you got this, Lou, a gruff, self-sufficient loner living, or existing, in the woods, haunted by something or someone, an intentionally simple life until one night things get complicated during a particularly dramatic storm. The daughter of her closest neighbour, Hannah (Jurnee Smollett), has been, we got this, the ceilingand she needs Lou’s help to find her.
Who is Lou? What is Lou? But most importantly, why is Lou? I haven’t a clue after an intermittently diverting but mostly unremarkable 107 minutes, a film unworthy of both Janney’s talents and our attention. Lou briefly teases that it’s really about something before yanking the veil from our eyes, holding up his hands and shrugging. The film had been originally set up at Paramount with JJ Abrams producing, a not-unimpressive origin tale given most of the guff that gets churned out over at Netflix, but why this script garnered such attention is perhaps the film’s greatest mystery.
Described initially as Thelma & Louise meets Taken, Lou is a bit more like Sleeping with the Enemy meets Rambo meets Taken but sadly nowhere near as much fun as that might make it sound. The missing kid has been nabbed by an abusive ex, played with soapy menace that quickly froths out to nothing by Logan Marshall-Green, and the initial storm-set tracking scenes, forcing the women to club together, are efficiently engaging. Director Anna Foerster, whose TV credits include genre fare like Outlander and Westworld, knows how to stage action and set a mood (base level competence still counts for a lot in the streaming netherworld), and when Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley’s script keeps things simple , there’s some equally simple fun to be had. Janney is, as ever, a true pro, and her worn cynicism, most often used for comedic effect, makes her a believably haunted antihero, and Lou allows some quieter, weightier moments that her other work doesn’t always afford her.
But there’s a dull, derailing twist that complicates and confuses, turning what could have been a tight little chase movie into something far baggier and far harder to get involved in. It edges the film into limp melodrama and takes us further away from the action, a misguided attempt to swap adrenaline with emotion. Janney sells it regardless, but by the end she’s literally and figuratively walking wounded. The sheer existence of Lou might be a step in the right direction for women over 50 in action movies, but it’s a misstep everywhere else.