It must be hard enough to even get the opportunity to direct your first film, much less make it good enough to satisfy moviegoers and studios at the same time. Then there's the ongoing struggle to preserve as much of your artistic expression while finding a way to deliver a well written and comprehensive script. I say this right off the bat, because these are all the factors that seem to be evident in first-time feature director Vaughn Stein's Terminal, a movie that has many enjoyable and satisfying aspects to it, but also maybe could have stopped spinning its web before it got too far from the center.
Written and directed by Stein, Terminal takes place in a neon-lavished underbelly of a city that has all the looks of a smaller-scale Las Vegas, but with the dark beating heart of New York's Hell's Kitchen. But ironically, while those are American city references the entire place is populated with folks speaking in British and Australian accents. This scene is already ripe for some strange folks to appear. One of them is Bill (Simon Pegg), an English teacher who is just trying to get a train ride, but when he realizes he's going to be stuck waiting for some time he heads over to the End of the Line Café on the recommendation from the janitor (Mike Myers) cleaning up the station.
He meets Annie (Margot Robbie), a waitress who works at the café who seems to enjoy interacting with different random customers that come through its doors. After Annie sits down and chats with Bill for some time we learn that he is dying from a fatal illness and Annie takes great pleasure in trying to convince him the futility of his life and how he should off himself. In another scenario, we have two hitmen named Alfred (Max Irons) and Vince (Dexter Fletcher) who are stuck in town because they are waiting to be given orders by an off-screen crime boss named Mr. Franklin about their next job, and periodically go into the same café to quarrel, waste time, and, for Alfred, flirt with Annie.
The film is one of those famously fun stories where several of the characters overlap and interact at different points, but not necessarily in any linear timeline. The film jumps around a good amount and at times it's very interesting but at other times it seems more like a nuisance to keep track of what is actually going on.
With that being the basic gist of the plot it's very difficult to go into much more about the film without standing on the edge of crossing the spoiler line. While Terminal has a lot of mystery to it, the problem is keeping the viewer entertained long enough for the payoff. I did not find Alfred and Vince very likable as a team, but individually the characters have been fleshed out with Alfred being the young and wide-eyed naïve one and Vince being the crotchety older guy who just finds a way to be unhappy and complain about everything he possibly can have an opinion on. In that sense, it goes for an amusing odd couple pairing as the two are attached at the hip throughout the movie but sometimes I definitely wondered if these two were even capable of pulling off killing someone. Mike Myers is a delight every time he comes on the screen as his character just sporadically pops up from time to time. I only wish I would've seen him choose more roles like this before because he is very impressive.
Both storylines have the common denominator of involving Annie who we are shown in several instances that she isn't just a waitress. She is shown in many different outfits and hairstyles displaying a very chameleon-like quality to her character. Robbie (who is also a producer on the film) is in fine acting form again as she is the center of this movie not just in a story sense but her rich talent is the most engaging part that keeps you focused even with the windy roads the script goes on. There is so much going on in Annie's head and the desire to see how this woman fits in with both of these storylines kept my brain ticking. The devilish smile she has would sometimes be brief flashes to her previous role of Harley Quinn, but other than that Annie is her own brand of sassy, sexy, and a wickedly intelligent woman who you're not sure if you want to ask her for her number because she might be a little more dangerous than you can handle.
Her interactions with Bill are more low-key than with the hitmen and there's an amusing element to their conversations that seem very fitting between two strangers who just met. The only problem comes when you start getting to the point where it seems a little long winded and you really need some relevance as to why they have even met. Pegg holds up his end quite well and there's no doubt that the man is a double-edged sword of talent when it comes to playing comedy or drama.
Vaughn Stein surely has a massive fascination with the film noir genre and it shows with the overall mood of the film that has elements of Tarantino style and Frank Miller's Sin City but without an abundance of sex and violence. He goes for more of the look with several unique off-center camera angles and use of shadows and spotlight lighting to add some flair to scenes. I did enjoy the overall feel and visual look of the movie as it has its own original personality that doesn't just make it feel like we're watching something set in present time. There's no one pulling out a cell phone or a laptop and that gives us some refreshing air to breathe. The main problem with the film just seems to be that as it goes on it tries to be cleverer than it needs to be. While I believe I understood the story, in the end, it seems like certain elements could have been either shortened or eliminated to make it get there sooner. Speaking of the ending, I found it quite unexpected and it takes such a hard left turn that I'm not entirely sure it fits correctly. I will say it was exciting and right up my alley for what I like in a movie but I've seen this similar stunt pulled before and done right but it almost decides to take on the identity of a different film altogether.
My final verdict would have to be that Terminal, which comes from RLJE Films, is worth watching for anyone that either loves Margot Robbie enough to just watch her shine for 90 minutes or if you just love the film noir genre dearly. It's not the greatest film you'll see this month but it is a good one and Stein should be proud of for his first effort.