Of all the filmmakers in the decade-long “Avengers” franchise, Joe and Anthony Russo shined brightest with their four stellar entries: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame.”
Now, the dynamic duo teams with Spider-Man star Tom Holland for their first post-Marvel film with the crime flick “Cherry,” which premieres on Apple TV+ Friday.
Based on the 2018 novel by Nico Walker, the story follows Cherry, a college dropout turned Army medic who suffers from PTSD from the Iraq War. Before long, he blows his money on a drug addiction and becomes a serial bank robber to get out of debt.
While Holland rivals any web-slinger we’ve had, it’s nice to see him in a role other than Spidey. As his mentor, Robert Downey Jr., told GQ magazine, “Tom won’t be playing Spider-Man when he’s 37. At least I hope not. … There was a Spider-Man before Tom Holland, and there will be a Spider-Man after Tom Holland. That’s facts, Tommo.”
Holland shows a much darker side in “Cherry,” narrating in his best impression of “Goodfellas” (1990), while finding chemistry with co-star Ciara Bravo in their best impression of “True Romance” (1993). Parents beware: If you queue it up for your young Peter Parker fans at home, you’re in for a rude awakening of vulgarity.
The visual style is just as subtle, and by that I mean not at all. Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (“Drive”) delivers flashy camerawork, earning a nomination by the American Society of Cinematographers Awards, which could foreshadow an Oscar nomination when nominations are announced first thing Monday morning.
It’d be a shame if Academy members voted for a film before the public could even see it, giving weight to the “elitist” argument that the Oscars are out of touch. Likewise, it’s painful for us cinephiles who would rather see the nod go to, say, “First Cow,” whose painterly compositions were beautiful and actually fell during the calendar year.
Either way, the Russos direct with flair, flashing text of a drill instructor’s dialogue on screen, showing a high-angle of troops marching like a Busby Berkeley musical, even posing the soldiers in a still-life formation as the camera weaves around them.
Unfortunately, it’s more style than substance. Even the snappy dialogue — “I sh** blood, farted blood and craved sleep” — can’t hide the fact that we’ve seen it all before. Cliches are fine if the characters are at least likable, but the heroin-shooting hero and heroine are hard to root for when they make so many bad decisions.
Structurally, it conforms to literature, relying on title cards to divide the film into book chapters. This episodic approach doesn’t work for film like it does TV, the background of screenwriters Angela Russo-Otstot (“The Shield”) and Jessica Goldberg (“Away”).
Ultimately, the film can’t figure out what it wants to be. Is it a romance like “500 Days of Summer?” Is it a war flick like “Jarhead?” Is it a veteran drama like “Thank You For Your Service?” Is it a drug movie like “Trainspotting?” Or is it a bank robbery flick like “Baby Driver?” It tries to be all of these, but winds up falling short of all of them.
The end result is a joyless, overlong two hours and 20 minutes.
Don’t waste your time. This “Cherry” is a bomb.