Sasha Luss in Anna (Photo: Lionsgate)

ANNA
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Luc Besson
STARS Sasha Luss, Helen Mirren

There’s a scene in writer-director Luc Besson’s Anna in which the title character, a trained assassin for the KGB, is forced to wipe out an entire restaurant of heavily armed thugs. Watching this sequence, I felt an incredible wave of déjà vu, as if I had seen this sequence before. Not a similar sequence, mind you, but this exact sequence. Was it a glitch in the matrix?

Actually, it’s more like a glitch in the imagination. Anna plays like a carbon copy of earlier, better action flicks featuring a female protagonist, some helmed by Besson himself. But if the filmmaker is trying to capture lightning twice by producing another film on the order of his influential La Femme Nikita, the most he can muster are a few flinty sparks.

Anna is the name of a hard-luck woman (Sasha Luss) who gets recruited by the KGB for their dirty assignments. She’s under the tutelage of Alex Tchenkov (Luke Evans), who falls for her, and Olga (Helen Mirren), who never lets up on her. Eventually, she catches the attention of the CIA, particularly an agent (Cillian Murphy) who thinks he might be able to turn her.

If even 2017’s grandly entertaining and grossly overlooked Atomic Blonde couldn’t get people into theaters, there’s even less chance for something as rote as Anna. (Then again, it is better than last year’s ugly and irritating Red Sparrow.) The film enjoys a complex flashback structure that frequently diverts the proceedings from the present to the past, but, for the most part, these once-upon-a-time interludes reveal little that wasn’t already obvious and instead get in the way of any narrative forward momentum.

For the pivotal role of Anna, Besson opted to cast a real supermodel, so it’s not surprising that Luss seems most at ease in the scenes in which her character is posing as a supermodel. Otherwise, she’s a blank slate, an undesirable quality for a movie in which audiences are supposed to completely align behind the harried heroine. Evans and especially Murphy disappear in their flat assignments, but Mirren has some fun as the domineering Olga, barking orders while saddled with oversized glasses and an unflattering haircut. If The Incredibles’ Edna Mode was an animated caricature of Edith Head, then Anna’s Olga is a live-action caricature of Edna Mode.

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