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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Everything about 'Those Who Wish Me Dead' is unbelievable, even Angelina Jolie's hair

    Angelina Jolie, left, and Jon Bernthal in a scene from "Those Who Wish Me Dead." (Emerson Miller/Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP)

    Angelina Jolie has played spies, sharks, an evil queen and a hot-roddin' car mechanic; it was only a matter of time before she would don a parachute and goggles to play a danger-immune American smokejumper.

    In "Those Who Wish Me Dead," Jolie demonstrates her career-long fascination with action derring-do and physical punishment, to diminishing effect. In this pulpy, borderline laughable genre picture, not even her hair is believable.

    That's no fault of Jolie, who, as Hannah Faber, gives her all to the role of a heroic firefighter who has been traumatized by a job gone wrong; she masks her grief with excessive drinking and one-of-the-boys shenanigans (including a strong cornhole game and an impressive trick involving said parachute and a pickup truck). When she's assigned to a remote observation tower to get her head together, she instead becomes embroiled — literally! — in an arcane hit job involving a young boy and an oncoming forest fire that threatens to engulf everyone in its path.

    Directed by Taylor Sheridan from a screenplay he, Charles Leavitt and Michael Koryta adapted from Koryta's book, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" hews closely to the filmmaker's oeuvre: The film possesses the same grimly efficient action as the "Sicario" movies, as well as the workmanlike narrative propulsion of the thriller "Wind River." As for "Hell or High Water," a note-perfect Sheridan script beautifully directed by David Mackenzie, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" is but a faint and teasing echo. The twists, turns and vernacular folk-poetry that made that film so satisfying here are substituted with predictable "whammies" and lines that sound more forced the more casually they're delivered.

    That's a shame, because "Those Who Wish Me Dead" has a lot going for it — not just in Jolie's ease with daredevilry, but a supporting cast that includes Jake Weber, Jon Bernthal and a woefully misused Nicholas Hoult, who has proved to be so deliciously preening in the addictive Hulu series "The Great." Finn Little, who plays a besieged boy set upon by shadowy forces in the Montana wilderness, does a good job of channeling his character's mental state of terror and numb disbelief, but any chemistry he could have with Jolie never has a chance to develop beyond a few flashes here and there.

    Speaking of flashes: They're hot in "Those Who Wish Me Dead," but not particularly convincing, nor are the smears of ash and dirt that try but fail to erase Jolie's ice-sculpture perfection. Sheridan stacks the deck like a master Jenga player, ensuring that, despite ever more fantastical modes of imposing violence and suffering, the wrong people never get really hurt — at least until it's convenient for the plot.

    With the guaranteed brilliance of the good guys and pivotal blunders by the bad guys, amid lightning fields and licking flames and noisy fusillades, "Those Who Wish Me Dead" finally implodes in a fireball of cheesy disaster-flick cliches. Those who wish they were someplace else might find themselves longing wistfully for another game of cornhole.

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    One star. Rated R. At theaters; also available on HBO Max. Contains strong violence and crude language throughout. 100 minutes.

    Angelina Jolie in "Those Who Wish Me Dead." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

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