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Negative (2017) Review

Negative is a 2017 action/thriller about a former British spy who flees Los Angeles for Phoenix after a deal with a cartel goes wrong.

Wrong place at the wrong time. That’s nothing new in film, with plenty of stories following unlikely nobodies thrust into action by circumstances they only happen to fall into. What makes it so appealing is usually how it allows the audience to identify with the ‘hero’ and keep us imaging what it would be like if it were us. Not so much with Joshua Caldwell‘s Negative, an ungainly thriller that has a smart start but devolves into a plodding, unconvincing road trip that spoils all its good ideas.

READ MORE: Director Joshua Caldwell speak to me about film criticism and my review of his movie Negative

Analog photographer Hollis (Simon Quarterman) is out and about Los Angeles, taking candid snaps of people on the street, including that of a lovely young woman strolling alone in a park. He heads home and begins developing his pictures in his darkroom when he gets a knock on the door, and by no surprise, it’s the same woman, who charges in and demands the image. She is Natalie (Katia Winter), and she means business, violently getting his attention and soon the photograph and negative, but hot on her trail are some thugs who she says are very, very bad, forcing the two of them to go on the run. So it’s to Phoenix they go, laying low as Hollis tries to figure out who she is and why there are killers after her.

It’s not hard to see what Caldwell and screenwriter Adam Gaines are trying to do here, a gender role reversal of the very trope-ish action movie standard, making Natalie a woman of great beauty and even more kick-assery while Hollis remains the mild-mannered do-gooder who asks clerks at hotels the thread count of bed sheets. It’s a work of broad strokes and as such makes the generic switch all too obvious rather than organic. We learn that Natalie is a former spy something or other for an elite British agency of sorts who was on her way out (despite looking barely old enough to have even begun a career) and ended up mixed up with a Colombian drug cartel in LA., a deal that left her being hunted by some ruthless sicarios. She is now ‘stuck’ with Hollis, believing they would kill him for the photo, forcing him to depend on her to survive.

The idea is a good one, but the execution is off, raising a number of troubling questions. Natalie was simply photographed in public walking in a park, hardly appearing to be in hiding or on the run, so why would a random image of her be of any value? The cartel bad guys somehow track Hollis (or her) to his apartment, a conceit that is purely plot-driven as any closer inspection renders it impossible. Either way, the filmmakers are more interested in the relationship of Hollis and Natalie, and by the time we get to a lengthy exposition on the history and importance of Marshmallow Fluff, the film has well-established itself as an awkwardly talky and expositional experience with rarely a moment of earned action. While there are some good moments in direction, and one pretty decent fight scene (that itself ends in cliché), there is nothing we haven’t seen before.

Negative is a noble attempt but a misstep nonetheless, and yet despite the flaws, there is promise from the filmmakers that better can be done. Caldwell builds a convincing sense of atmosphere and for the most part, Natalie is a compelling character that might have worked better with a different setup and without the baggage of Hollis.

Negative (2017) Review

Movie description: Negative is a 2017 action/thriller about a former British spy who flees Los Angeles for Phoenix after a deal with a cartel goes wrong.

Director(s): Joshua Caldwell

Actor(s): Josh Randall, Sebastian Roché, Katia Winter

Genre: Action

  • Our Score
User Rating 4 (5 votes)
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