Vaughn Stein has worked for years in the film industry, largely as second or third assistant director in projects ranging from 2013 blockbuster World War Z to award-winning indie flick Pride. Now, he finally releases his first feature-length film, Terminal, to UK cinemas – a project that he’s had a rough cut of since 2016, which screened at Toronto International Film Festival that year.
This noir-thriller set in an eerie, unnamed city, follows the lives of the inquisitive waitress Annie (Margot Robbie) who leads a mysterious double life, a suicidal teacher (Simon Pegg), two hitmen (Dexter Fletcher & Max Irons), and a strange janitor (Mike Myers) as their stories intertwine through the works of a mastermind criminal.
This all sounds like it would make for an enticing picture, yet in his attempt to voguishly blend themes from Alice in Wonderland together with Sin City and Blade Runner, Stein has instead created a monstrously inconsistent mess that fails to realise any of its hinted potential.
From the clunky cut-scenes to the categorically cringeworthy dialogue, Terminal is a pain to sit through. Frankly, the only thing more confusing than the desperately shoehorned third-act plot twists is how the likes of Robbie and Pegg got attached to the project in the first place. The script is agonisingly forced, the narrative terribly structured, and ultimately neither of these stars manage to elevate the film to something that is comfortably watchable.
The story is… well, there’s practically no story at all. The narrative shifts between several time periods, leaving the viewer in a complete daze as to who’s where and what’s what. It is extremely difficult to associate with any of the characters, despite Stein – who wrote the screenplay too – sliding in background stories in a way that tries (but fails) to emulate Edgar Wright’s unique flair seen in the Cornetto Trilogy.
Yet after all this criticism, a strange sense of guilt arises with it. Upon reflection, Stein’s vision for the finished film becomes clear, but unfortunately so does the realisation of the wasted potential that Terminal is. Perhaps with a more cultivated director at the helm and a script rewrite or two Terminal could have been an intensely thrilling experience. Christopher Ross’ cinematography harks back to Roger Deakin’s fantastic Oscar-winning work on Blade Runner 2049, so the look of the film is impressive, but this only adds to the sad comprehension that this project was such a missed opportunity.
The overall picture presented here leaves behind an immense feeling of dissatisfaction. Not only is it a strain to recall the last time a 90-minute feature has felt so mind-numbingly long, but the plain ridiculousness of the plot twists alone (after an hour-or-so of build-up) are enough to switch the viewer’s attention off. It really is eye-rolling stuff.
Image Credit: Movie DB.