It’s like a fake movie within a real movie somehow busted out into the real world. Jumped off the shelves of the video rental store in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and wished itself real, perhaps. Like Pinocchio. Bastille Day! Starring Idris Elba and that one guy from Game of Thrones who got killed off like three years ago! Grab a holiday that no one has yet foisted a movie plot onto, toss in a badass actor ready for his action-hero breakout, give him a bland sidekick, set it in a recognizable but still slightly exotic location, one that allows for Eurovillains. The script writes itself! Except you don’t need a script, because Bastille Day is a jokey conceptual riff on Hollywood clichés, right? All it needs is a poster and a slam-bang trailer and a couple of exciting stills. That’s all most movies are anyway, amirite?
Bastille Day is a real movie. I swear.
Maybe this is the sequel to Chunnel, the action movie that Jerry Seinfeld and his friends mentioned a bunch of times. This is plausible. Elba’s (The Jungle Book, Zootropolis) CIA agent Sean Briar was, like, a young rookie when terrorists blew up that train in the Channel Tunnel, and he’s still haunted by the shit that went down there, which is why he is so reckless today, and why he is still in France, so he can, I dunno, lay flowers every year on the grave of the little girl he couldn’t save on that damn train. If only he hadn’t followed the rules! So today he doesn’t follow the rules, like when he recruits pickpocket Michael Mason (Richard Madden: not Jon Snow) to help him hunt down terrorist bad guys. And cowardly Michael has no choice but to go along with this insane idea because he has to clear his name: he snatched the wrong bag, and it exploded inconveniently in a public place.
Sean and Michael aren’t actual characters: they are suggestions of characters that might be elaborated upon if this were a real movie. I mean, it is a real movie, but in wishing itself to life, Bastille Day had no way of knowing what was supposed to be in between the bits that make for a good trailer. It’s an enchanted scarecrow doing a poor job of distracting you from noticing that it is shoving the straw back into its popped button. There is intermittent fun to be had as Sean and Michael race around Paris pretending to be American, chasing each other, and later smashing up cars and the like. (The scarecrow put on a good song-and-dance, too.) But you might as well just watch the trailer and save the price of admission: the impact is the same and you’ll have saved a lot of time.
“This is my audition for Bond, muthafucka.”
If Bastille Day were a jokey fake movie, it would be less instantly forgettable than it is. It’s neither silly enough to be genuinely funny nor serious enough to be gripping. Mostly it’s the sort of movie that fake movies are making fun of. Really with the lady CIA boss (Kelly Reilly: Heaven Is for Real, Calvary) who is all smooth smart competence and whose story is probably a lot more interesting than these two guys’, except this movie ain’t about her? Really with the damsel in distress (Charlotte Le Bon: The Walk, Yves Saint Laurent)? Every attempt at a snarky action-movie quip flops, though I may announce myself when I enter a room from now on with a shout of “It’s the American!” The only laugh I got from a movie that is, I grant, intended as cheerfully ridiculous (though it fails at that) was wholly unintentional: the bad guys plan to foment unrest at a Bastille Day protest parade via Twitter, as cover for their big bad crime, and that’s not even the laughable bit. It’s when a villain says — and this is the best part —menacingly something akin to “Unleash the hashtags!” (That’s better than the actual dialogue. There: I have improved the experience for you.) In fact, in the kind of movie that Bastille Day should have figured out it wants to be, “Unleash the hashtags!” might have been truly awesome. But it’s not in on the joke that it accidentally becomes.
UPDATE 10.11.16: For the US theatrical release as well as the UK VOD/DVD release, this film has been retitled The Take, which reduces the goofy-fun level by approximately 53.86 percent.