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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Review: Gal Gadot turns superspy in 'Heart of Stone'

    It's turning out to be quite a summer for superspies and supercomputers.

    A month after the action feast of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part I," in which Tom Cruise faced off with an AI supervillain called “the Entity,” comes a very “MI”-like international espionage thriller with an equally fancy and powerful machine.

    “Heart of Stone” stars Gal Gadot as Rachel Stone, an agent for an elite and clandestine intelligence agency called the Charter. Like “Mission: Impossible,” “Heart of Stone” hits glamorous global destinations (the Italian Alps, Lisbon, Senegal, Iceland) and features lengthy actions sequence including a wingsuit skydive.

    Whereas “Dead Reckoning” pushed old-school filmmaking to extremes for a gripping theatrical experience, “Heart of Stone” revels in its digital wizardry, feels vaguely algorithm-y in its conception and was made for Netflix. Both films, interestingly, are products of the same production company, Skydance.

    “Mission: Impossible” was born out of the Cold War, but “Heart of Stone” conjures a peacekeeping spy unit outside of nationhood in the hopes of kickstarting a new franchise uncluttered by governments — a globetrotting spy movie without all those pesky geopolitics; a borderless intelligence agency for a borderless streaming era.

    That may sound too harsh. After all, there have been countless lackluster espionage thrillers with little connection to the real world. (“Dead Reckoning,” for all its thrills, has about as much to do with today's international politics as its star has to do with lengthy interviews with journalists.) And “Heart of Stone," directed by Tom Harper ( "Wild Rose,"The Aeronauts” ), does have a few nifty moves of its own.

    The film's opening sequence begins in a very Bond-like Alpine hotel where Gadot's Stone is part of an MI6 mission posing as an inexperienced tech, not a field agent. This allows for plenty of “She can do that?” looks when the operation falls apart and Stone begins flashing Cruise-level skills while rushing off with a glowing parachute down the darkened slopes in slinky, snowy chase.

    To the credit of Harper, cinematographer George Steel and production designer Charles Wood, the action is generally fluid in “Heart of Stone." The film's handsomest design comes in Charter's secret weapon: the Heart, the so-named quantum computer with supreme hacking abilities that can process chance-of-success scenarios in real time. Its operator (Matthias Schweighöfer), like a new-age John King, contorts a room full of pixels with the wave of his hand, while guiding Charter agents from afar.

    Also in the mix is Jamie Dornan's Parker, the leader of the MI6 unit that Stone is initially masquerading in — though his affiliations are also murky. The trouble is kicked off by a hacker of mysterious intentions played by Alia Bhatt, a Bollywood star making her Hollywood debut. Glenn Close pops in as the head of the CIA.

    I'm not sure any of them get a chance to do all that much, though Bhatt is charmingly mischievous in her scenes. Not for the first time, the actor I most wish was center stage is Sophie Okonedo, who, as a Charter leader, is the most soulful presence in a not particularly soulful film. Gadot makes for a slinky if unspectacular spy.

    The plot, from screenwriters Greg Rucka and Allison Schroeder, revolves around the threat of the Heart falling into the wrong hands. This means that “Heart” is spoken of so much that you have expect the Wilson sisters to turn up eventually.

    But there is nothing in the impressively generic “Heart of Stone," right down that title, that is even a little bit unexpected. All the pieces here are fine but nothing is distinct from dozens of films before it. You would swear that the movie's star AI wrote it — and even gave itself first billing, too.

    “Heart of Stone,” a Netflix release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for sequences of violence and action, and some language. Running time: 123 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.

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