Review: ‘Outside the Wire’ is a bit derivative but has some cool action

You have definitely seen this film before. Well, ok, not exactly this film, but if you’re a fan of science fiction and you’re presented with a story about a cocksure young recruit being paired with an android who can’t lie but clearly isn’t telling the whole truth, well, you’ve seen this movie before.

The film opens with an intense battle. US troops and their robot support soldiers (called ‘Gumps’, for a reason I must have missed) rolling down a Ukrainian highway are ambushed by rebels. Above them is a drone piloted by our hero, Harp (Damson Idris). In a key moment of the battle he’s presented with a choice: fire a missile at the bad guys (but kill two American soldiers in the process) or not (and maybe the soldier lose the battle entirely).

It’s this willingness to sacrifice two soldiers to save the larger group that gets him sent to the front lines of a Ukrainian civil war, both as a punishment –he’s being relocated to a war zone from a cushy gig in Nevada– and brings him to the attention of Leo (Anthony Mackie), an android who admires him for being willing to make the hard choice.

Like I said above if you have watched movies (or original series Star Trek) before you can probably figure out where at least some of this going. I won’t spoil it here, but when the film eventually gets where it’s going, it won’t be a surprise for anyone paying attention. The plot is thin, and in a few places, it’s too clever for its own good, too.

OUTSIDE THE WIRE, ​Damson Idris as Harp, Anthony Mackie ​as ​Leo, in OUTSIDE THE WIRE. Cr. ​Jonathan Prime​/NETFLIX ​© ​2020

Where the film shines is with its stars. Idris and Mackie are both fun in their roles. Idris is believable was the cocky kid who has his entire perspective changed by actually being in a war instead of watching it on a monitor from 10,000 miles away. Mackie is his usual realizably charismatic self. While some of Leo’s character turns are silly, Mackie does a great job selling a funny, but no bullshit attitude and acquits himself well when he script calls for him to do some ass-kicking.

Michael Kelly is also here as the general in charge of the military base the pair are stationed at, and he is always a win at this point, but the movie also wastes Pilou Asbæk. Asbæk has proven in the last few years he’s the kind of guy who can show up for just a few minutes in a film and absolutely own them, but his part here is so slight that he’s not able to accomplish much with it.

Outside the Wire does have some big ideas on its mind, but only the slightest versions make it to screen. It is a perfectly serviceable action film and exactly the kind of thing that is good to have on in the background so you can tune in for the action. If you’re here for a heady examination of the morality of AI or the cold calculus of war, you will be better off loading up an episode of Star Trek.