A movie that is bad is one thing; a movie that’s both bad and boring is something entirely different.

Sadly, this is the ultimate outcome of Sean Penn’s strange outing as an action hero. Penn, who normally finds himself in polarizing movies such as “Milk,” is comically miscast in director Pierre Morel’s fourth attempt at an action film that easily – as well as lazily – could have starred Liam Neeson.

“The Gunman” follows the exploits of retired “gun for hire” Jim Terrier (Penn), along with his fellow mercenaries Cox (Mark Rylance), Felix (Javier Bardem) and Reed (Billy Billingham). The film opens in the Congo, where Terrier and his cohorts have been hired to assassinate a key figure in the unstable climate of the country’s natural resources.

Terrier is also joined by his humanitarian girlfriend, Annie (Jasmine Trinca), who is completely unaware of Terrier’s true mission. Years after the assassination, Terrier finds himself the target of a mysterious force and the race is on to find out who is responsible.

This movie is a text book example of false advertising. The trailers and all other promotions lauded this film as a cerebral action-packed thriller. The actual movie, however, is a dud, with a plot that takes two hours to make a single statement – rich people exploit developing countries. Riveting.

The unfortunate reality is that “The Gunman” is more or less an onscreen checklist of all the general attributes of a basic action flick. If this movie is any indicator of how real shadow governments may operate, then we live in a world of truly stupid super villains.

Once again, we’re treated to a plot starter that showcases the villains interrupting the quiet life of our reformed super spy, thus igniting a vengeful fire in his belly that would never have arisen had they just left him alone. Idris Elba also makes a glorified cameo in this movie as an Interpol agent working behind the scenes. I would discuss Elba’s character in greater detail, but that would imply that he has more than three scenes and ten lines of dialogue, which he doesn’t.

There is an interesting subplot involving a cumulative ailment that Terrier must deal with, however, it too is rendered completely irrelevant by the time the credits roll. I can understand why this might be included.

Making the hero more vulnerable and human could raise the stakes and lead to some intense moments, but like many other things in this script, it’s an opportunity that was left knocking. One opportunity they didn’t waste, however, was to show off Sean Penn’s “action man” physique over and over again. While it may seem ridiculous to the audience for Terrier to have more shirtless moments than Taylor Lautner and Captain Kirk combined, I’m sure Sean Penn felt it was all just part of the job.

Many other absurdities pervade “The Gunman’s” script, but to go into all of them would lengthen this review substantially. The movie couldn’t simply decide what it wanted to be. Is it an action film or activist film?

Its attempt to combine the two only resulted in a boring convoluted plot that was perpetually stuck in slow motion. Elba stands around with absolutely nothing to do, and the other characters are just as forgettable.

Action films have a way of sticking around these days, thanks to a combination of popular actors and death-defying stunts. The winning combination of Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in the “Fast & Furious” franchise and Liam Neeson in the “Taken” franchise have produced millions of dollars. Try as he might, Sean Penn can’t carry the movie on his own, as the thin story crumbles under the weight of the story’s thin plotline.

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