If you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with genre baloney — and enough shoplifted visual trickery to fill Quentin Tarantino’s kitchen sink. That’s the tack taken by “Cat Run,” an often stylish but wearying action thriller that fails even to be convincingly tongue-in-cheek as it trots around Eastern Europe, recycling conventions and arch brutality. Janet McTeer offers the film’s one novel ingredient, a gentlewomanly assassin who commits all manner of mayhem in suit, scarf and proper leather bag (ever dangling from forearm). She could well earn the film some favor among the fanboys, although indie release will limit exposure.
Helmer John Stockwell (“Turistas,” “Into the Blue”) does try to steer the viewer through the confusion, introducing each of his myriad characters with a freeze-frame and a graphic explanation of who’s who: “the Exhibitionist,” for instance, aka the eponymous Catalina (Paz Vega), a single mom and high-priced hooker; or “the Loner,” who’s really Anthony (Scott Mechlowicz), an expat American cooking in a Montenegran seaport. Anthony’s buddy Julian (Alphonso McAuley),”the Extrovert,” has arrived for what looks like an extended stay, and wants to start a private detective agency with Anthony. Their investigative adventures get a jumpstart after “the Pervert,” an ex-U.S. senator named Krebb (Christopher McDonald), kills one of Cat’s colleagues during sex at a Montenegro embassy party. The act is caught on surveillance cam, Cat grabs the disc containing the video, and Krebb launches a very lethal campaign to get it back.
Their campaign director, as it were, is Helen Bingham (McTeer), whose CV flashes by rather quickly along with her handle (“the Seeker”), though it seems to include something about royal relations, a talent for interrogation and a personal dislike for pornographers, which makes her grilling, slicing and dicing of a character called “the Exploiter” particularly grimy. No one wants to get in Helen’s way, least of all Cat, who has a baby to think of. Also hoping to steer clear are Cat’s new friends Anthony and Julian, as well as their recently hired receptionist, Dexter, a one-armed, legless Army vet played by D.L. Hughley (who has a few funny moments but is mostly annoying).
Krebbs and his co-conspirators, who include “the Enforcer” (ubiquitous Czech star Karel Roden) make the mistake of taking Helen out of the picture, which doesn’t sit well with Our Miss Bingham, who as a result allies herself with Cat and Co. and is suddenly one of the good guys. This leaves the viewer with a great deal of indignation over the horrible way Helen has acted, but clearly there wasn’t much else to occupy her for the rest of the movie; there are only so many targets in Eastern Europe, and she was dispatching them rather quickly.
Stockwell proves unable to ratchet the action down to a civilized or consistent level, and the strained wit of Nick Ball and John Niven’s screenplay is in constant conflict with the rather casual nature of the violence, especially as perpetrated by McTeer’s Helen. The presence of the baby throughout is not just troubling, but offensive: Little Alex (Viktor Boroja) is presumably intended to be a humanizing factor, but it’s a bit cheap to place a child in a perpetual state of peril, especially among characters for whom infanticide doesn’t appear to be much of a stretch.
Tech credits are fine, especially Jean-Francois Hensgens’ lensing, although some of his efforts seem wasted in light of all the visual accessorizing.