• by Wes Singleton

Free Fire, B-

Rated R, 88 minutes

The new crime action film "Free Fire" from director Ben Wheatley ("High-Rise") is a bloody, entertaining mix of laughs and bullets, all fired with gusto from the British newcomer, a relative newcomer to the cinematic landscape. Admittedly, there isn't much to it: it's essentially a group of low-lifes battling it out in an old, abandoned building, but it's also an original, dark comedy whose executive producers include acclaimed crime director Martin Scorsese.

Justine (Oscar-winner Brie Larson) brokers a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Frank Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon and Ord (Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer), who intend to sell them a stash of guns. But when shots fire during the handover, complete pandemonium ensues, with everyone at the scene suddenly thrust into a heart-stopping game of survival.

"Free Fire" is directed with considerable energy from Wheatley, and is co-written by Wheathley and Amy Jump, and delivers some solid, dark amusement and a lot of violence, blood and bullets, most of which are on target. The efficient and well-cast film, at only 88 minutes, is a nice effort from Wheatley, who has only been on the movie scene in the last 10 years and mostly confined to low-budget films across the pond.

Not all of "Free Fire" works well: some of the plotting is muddled (Larson's character in particular is never fully explained), and it's unclear why it's set in the 1970's, when that doesn't really have significance to the film, except providing some nostalgia in terms of wardrobe and props, including a well-placed John Denver 8-track that figures into the climax. It's also unclear as to why the characters make such a quick entrance into the building and why they must take a different and much longer exit out of the building, crawling out (it adds to the drama, I suppose).

Even with its flaws, and there are more than the ones I mention above, "Free Fire" is quick, enjoyable entertainment, with the dialogue coming in as rapidly as the bullets do, especially as many of the characters must crawl around to avoid gun fire. The film comes in as an underrated breakout for its director, who's been gaining notice and should gain more after "Free Fire."

It's not perfect, but "Free Fire" is a nice mixture of blood and bullets.

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