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‘The Gray Man’ review: Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans go into spy mode as Netflix flexes its acting muscles

Indeed, “Gray Man” comes from the “Red Notice” school of loud if not very colorful Netflix action movies, where the cast, social media influence, and superhero credibility in the cast are key to making the quality basically irrelevant. No matter the film, the poster alone, including the Russo Brothers’ “Avengers” directors, virtually assures astronomical numbers of “minutes viewed.”

Even less than “Red,” however, “Gray Man” doesn’t quite live up to the hype, which includes the mandatory theatrical release in advance to grease the wheels of its streaming assault.

Based on the book series, the film is the latest iteration of the Bond-Bourne genre, but even more than most spy vs. spy shenanigans play as an excuse for elaborate action sequences and insane stunts, which produce some real highlights, but also produce gradually diminishing returns, especially down the home stretch.

Whether Gosling wants a future as the shadowy CIA assassin known only as Six remains to be seen (he jokes that 007 has already been taken), but it represents a small but perhaps inevitable addition to his eclectic resume. As if to punctuate the point, Evans’ character derisively refers to him as a “Ken doll,” a sly reference to his upcoming foray into the recesses of franchise cinema.

Gosling’s Court Gentry is naturally snatched from prison to kill for the CIA, operating in a gray realm that, to quote the old song, gives him a number and strips his name. Yet Six’s latest mission brings him information that makes him dangerous to those above him, threatening everyone from his colleague on this operation (De Armas) to the now-retired manager (Billy Bob Thornton ) who recruited him.

Taking down Six, however, will require big guns, which is why those looking to kill him enlist Lloyd Hansen (Evans), a sociopathic hitman who boasts “I can kill anyone” – a claim that Six will put to the test – and care little about collateral damage or keeping actions “secret” in the least bit, to an almost comedic degree.

The hunt transports directors all over the world, and just to raise the stakes, throws a child in danger with a heart condition (Julia Butters, already developing quite a resume after “Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood”) to give Six something to fight for beyond himself.

The script (credited to co-director Joe Russo, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely) includes a bit of sly humor, and Evans in particular seems to enjoy nasty thugs after his flawless, star-studded image. Even so, a torture sequence to demonstrate just how bad he is ends up feeling somewhat gratuitous.
Ultimately, “The Gray Man” is an unintentionally appropriate title to describe a film that exists in such a narrow band of the cinematic spectrum. While it’s a step up from the Russos’ latest streaming effort, the dark “Cherry,” it’s the equivalent of an old “B” movie with a cast and budget of A level.

At one point, Six brushes off the risks and punishments he endures by saying, “Just another Thursday.” While “Gray Man” isn’t all that trivial, in the larger scheme of Netflix’s adventures in blockbuster cinema, it feels like just another action flick.

“The Gray Man” premieres in select US theaters July 15 and 22 on Netflix. It is rated PG-13.

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