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Terminal

Year: 2018
Production Co: Beagle Pug Films
Director: Vaughn Stein
Writer: Vaughn Stein
Cast: Margot Robbie, Simon Pegg, Dexter Fletcher, Mike Myers, Max Irons

We've entered a strange parallel universe where a sexy black comedy starring one of the biggest actresses on the planet barely registers before getting a miniscule VOD release. Maybe it was filmed ages ago and some distributor's only just managed a deal to rush it out, which they've either done badly or just not had enough money to do properly. Maybe the turgid response to advance screenings prompted them to change tack and dump it, hoping digital and DVD sales would scrape back the budget.

Because despite professional assistant director Vaughan Stein knowing how to construct and wield the luridly coloured comic book style he's after, and despite Margot Robbie throwing herself in with gusto, it's a mess.

Two hitmen, Vince (Dexter Fletcher) and Alfred (Max Irons) find themselves vying for work with a mysterious competitor, Annie (Robbie), who's contacted their overlord and offered a better deal – if she can have his usual henchmen at each other's throats, she gets their contracts.

At the same time the worried-looking, bookish Bill (Simon Pegg) finds himself in the terminal of the title, waiting for a train that isn't coming because – as the grizzled cockney station janitor (Mike Myers) tells him – he's missed the last one for the night. Why not go to the cafe upstairs until the next morning?

When he does so he's the only customer and Annie is for some reason the waitress on duty. She takes a penetrating interest in Bill and what he's doing there, and soon the pair are bonding over vodka and stories about their lives, Annie like a cross between a curious puppy and a smouldering sex object with her clipped street accent and piercing eyes.

Meanwhile, she also seems to be executing her plan against Vince and Alfred, seeing them holed up in an apartment waiting for a phone call about a job that seems to be taking forever, both of them getting increasingly antsy about the delay and seeming to fulfil Annie's plan perfectly.

Is this all happening in different time frames? If not, how can Annie be in two places at once? What does the elderly janitor have to do with it when it's obvious he's more than he seems?

After a complicated and interesting set-up, the resolution is a clankingly cheap deus ex machina that sends the multi-stranded plot right up its own proverbial, and you'll find yourself agreeing with the critics who've talked about what a shambles the narrative is. It doesn't help that the two stories – of Bill and of the contract killers – turn out to be completely unrelated, just separate incidents in Annie's life that seem to cross on a particular night.

That said, it's a pleasure to watch Robbie really sink her teeth into a role she obviously believed strongly in – amazing though it sounds, she seems to be getting more out of Annie than she did in the Harley Quinn of Suicide Squad. And Stein and his creative team achieve a distinctive noirish look of the city tinged in dirty neon glows, sharp angles and wafting cigarette smoke and looking like it's been taken straight from the storyboards.

The story is what lets it all down. It starts off in a strange place and despite enough asides to keep you interested, doesn't really get anywhere.

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